With Celtic due at Dens Park on Sunday, St Anthony looks back on a previous encounter between Dundee and Celtic which produced a dramatic finish.
10 December 2000 Dundee 1-2 Celtic
There was a great level of attention placed on Dens Park in Dundee when Celtic visited on league business in December 2000. Martin O’Neill had taken over as Celtic manager that summer and had resurrected their fortunes by guiding them to the top of the table whilst playing some brilliant football which brought them notable results.
Dundee, too were enjoying an upsurge in fortunes. Italian player manager, Ivano Bonetti, had brought some highly talented foreign players to Dens Park. Juan Sara, Fabian Caballero, and Georgi Nemsadze were being eyed upon enviously by other teams with the jewel in the Dundee crown being the famous Argentinian international, Claudia Cannigia. This was the best Dundee side since the days of John Duncan and Jocky Scott in the 1970’s and some observers were tipping them for silverware such was the impression they had made. Celtic knew they were in for a game.
The media had turned out in force for another reason, Neil Lennon having signed for Celtic that very week from Leicester City for a cool £5.7m transfer fee. The Irishman was said to be a lifelong Celtic fan and was now fulfilling an ambition in playing for Celtic. O’Neill had been keen on Lennon since the summer and Leicester had finally relented to Celtic’s pursuit after many months. A capacity crowd filled Dundee’s tight ground with the game being shown across the UK on live television and it was disappointing that Lennon, was subjected to sectarian abuse before he had actually kicked a ball in anger. Sadly, it was a taste of what was to come for Neil in the years ahead.
Celtic made an ideal start when they took the lead after just 4 minutes. Bobby Petta and Lubo Moravcik combined on the left to set up Stilian Petrov and he sent a powerful, rising shot into the net. The goal only served to inspire Dundee with the impressive Caniggia causing problems with Celtic defender Joos Valgaeren stopping a certain goal with a fine block. Dundee came out with purpose in the second half and scored a deserved, if fortunate, equaliser. Caniggia again caused problems on the Dundee left and his cross, which was bound for Juan Sara, was diverted into the net by the helpless Celtic captain, Tom Boyd. Celts’ goalkeeper Rab Douglas, who had only recently signed for Celtic from Dundee, looked frustrated at losing such a freak goal.
Martin O’Neill changed his system to 4-4-2 after bringing on Jackie McNamara for the ineffective Petta. Dundee still looked the more likely as the game drew to a close and Douglas was called on to make saves from the eager Dundee forwards. The 90 minutes had passed before Celtic mounted a final assault on the Dundee goal when a Petrov corner caused problems in the Dundee six-yard box. Chris Coyne’s attempted clearance rebounded off Steven Tweed straight to the unmarked Didier Agathe, and he knocked the ball into the net from just a yard out. It wasn’t clear at the time whether Agathe had meant the goal or if the ball had merely struck him on the way into the net.
The Celtic fans behind the goal exploded with joy at the late arrival as Agathe danced with joy in front of them with his happy team mates. Celtic had not played well but had shown great resolve to dig deep and win the match, showing the fighting spirit for which Celtic teams had been long renowned. Their supporters were very much aware that it was results like this which win league titles in the end.
And so it proved as O’Neill led his men to an unforgettable treble at the end of the season in May 2001. Dundee were also happy with their top six finish and for the first time in many years they could boast of being the best team in Dundee, after a long period in the shadow of close neighbours, Dundee United. Sadly for the Dens men, financial problems were just around the corner, and these were to have great implications for Dundee in the seasons to come.