Celtic in seventh heaven at top of SPL

FORGET six degrees of separation.

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Victor Wanyama and Efe Ambrose congratulate Georgios Samaras
Victor Wanyama and Efe Ambrose congratulate Georgios Samaras

It's now seven points between Celtic and the rest in the title race.

They boxed clever the day after Christmas to extend their lead at the top with a workmanlike 2-0 win over Dundee at Dens Park.

That can only be bad news for the rest of the clubs in danger of being forced to watch the current champions disappear over the horizon early in the New Year – with only half of their league games played.

This should have been the Festive Old Firm game, Dundee, or Club 12, having stepped into the breach left by Rangers in the SPL.

As it was, this was a much less significant affair, certainly compared to events of Christmas Past.

It was 12 months ago tomorrow that Lennon's side reclaimed pole position in the table, the 1-0 victory over Rangers at Parkhead making it nine league wins in a row.

Just seven weeks before they had faced Rangers in their post-Christmas clash, they trailed Ally McCoist's side by a massive 15 points, and Motherwell even threatened to deny them second spot in the table.

Victory at Fir Park was the catalyst for a remarkable turn around in fortunes which saw Celtic win their first title in four years, and Rangers go out into liquidation.

Now, one headline-packed year on, the Hoops are salivating at the prospect of playing Juventus in the last 16 of the Champions League early in the new year and chasing a domestic Treble while McCoist is trying to find a way out of the Third Division.

Little wonder Lennon refuses to take anything for granted in this crazy game, insisting you only need to consider all that has happened in the last 12 months to understand no one can know for sure what lies just around the corner.

That said, such is Celtic's dominance that few would predict any fall from grace in the coming weeks.

Indeed, as 2013 beckons, and with a healthy lead in the title race, their 125th-anniversary year promises to be one of the best in their history, although chants about going to Wembley in May for the Champions League Final, suggest a bit too much Christmas spirit has been consumed.

The manner of the victory over Dundee did not suggest this was a team about to conquer Europe, but it is still too good for the challenge which Scottish clubs can muster.

For much of it, Celtic did not really have to get out of first gear. In fact, particularly in the first half, you felt they could have handled this game still wearing any new slippers they got for Christmas.

The goal from Georgios Samaras which shot Celtic ahead at Dens was a perfect illustration of the gulf between the Hoops and the rest in the SPL.

The quality of Charlie Mulgrew's corner can't be matched by anyone at any other club here, nor can it be defended by too many, either.

Tony Watt was at the end of this one, his shot parried by Rab Douglas, but only into the centre of the area, where Samaras showed quick reactions and agility to twist for an overhead kick which went high into the net.

In truth, Celtic should have already been ahead before this 17th minute breakthrough, while bottom-of-the-table Dundee struggled to manufacture much of a threat at any stage.

The best chance they had came six minutes after the break – manager Barry Smith must have delivered his own Christmas message at the interval – when Ryan Conroy teed up Colin Nish for a header which looked net bound.

Unfortunately for Dundee, Fraser Forster has long-since mastered the art of doing next to nothing for long periods, then springing into action.

And he did so in style to claw away this effort and remind everyone why he is regarded as a Scrooge when it comes to conceding goals.

At the other end, the goal-hungry Gary Hooper was also showing why 2013 can be his breakthrough year at international level, coolly lobbing Douglas to score the second goal 19 minutes from time, the cracker of a pass over the top of the Dundee defence provided by Mikael Lustig.

Despite what had been a more spirited showing by the Dark Blues in the second half, there was not too much else to warm the hearts – or hands – of the 9,276 fans who had forsaken their Boxing Day comforts to attend this game. But if the championship is about to become the one-horse race most predicted it would be, making their own entertainment might become more and more of a necessity.

Let's just hope that the Banger Bhoys' dangerous practice of letting off fireworks in the stands is not something which becomes part of this.

It's not big, and it is not clever, and someone is going to get hurt.

Last night, it was only the Dundee players who were feeling pain as they tried and failed to deny Celtic Christmas cheer and another three points towards their end-of-season goal.

Although there could yet be an unexpected hang-over for defender Kelvin Wilson after he was caught on TV appearing to elbow Dundee's John Baird off the ball in the first half.


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