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Dundee United 0-1 Celtic: Hoops debutant Ajeti deals competitive Tangerines a bitter blow

Albian Ajeti nets the winner for Celtic.
Albian Ajeti nets the winner for Celtic.

Debutant Albian Ajeti won the day for Celtic on their return to domestic action as they edged out a competitive Dundee United side at Tannadice.

The Hoops hadn’t kicked a Premiership ball in anger for nearly a fortnight after left-back Boli Bolongoli broke coronavirus protocols, causing their fixtures to be postponed.

At times, the two weeks away told as the champions toiled against a Tangerines side who enjoyed plenty bright spots – particularly in the first half.

However, the Celts strength in depth told in the end with substitute Ajeti smashing home an important winner seven minutes from time to lift his side above United into fourth.

Boss Micky Mellon showed three changes to the team which beat Ross County, with Lewis Neilson, Jamie Robson and Nicky Clark coming in for Kieran Freeman, Adrian Sporle and Louis Appere.

The Tangerines started proceedings hoping to build on that 2-1 win in Dingwall with another strong performance.

And they started brightly, Neilson heading over a Peter Pawlett corner after the midfielder’s initial good work to win the set-piece.

Neat interplay from Clark and Logan Chalmers had Pawlett in on seven minutes but Hoops keeper Vasilios Barkas was able to collect the through ball as the United man collided with Jeremie Frimpong.

Odsonne Edouard came close to opening the scoring on 13 minutes with the visitors’ first chance, latching on to a skewed Mark Reynolds clearance to smash a volley off Benji Siegrist’s left-hand post.

And the Swiss stopper had to think fast 10 minutes later, clutching a corner, which deflected wickedly off Ian Harkes, gratefully to his chest.

Clark flashed a snapshot wide after a Harkes knockdown on 27 minutes as the Terrors limited the champions to few opportunities with their pressing play.

Robson and Neilson were particularly impressive in defence, with captain Reynolds leading by example alongside a stoic Mark Connolly.

Breaking at the other end on 33 minutes was Harkes, after good work to win possession back by Calum Butcher.

The American released Luke Bolton, flying down the right in acres of space, but the on-loan Man City youngster could only angle a drive over the Celtic bar.

Moments later, Siegrist had to be alive as the Celts countered through Frimpong. He released Nir Bitton, up from the back, who picked out Mohamed Elyounoussi in the area.

The Norwegian tried to stab an effort goalwards but Siegrist was up to the task, cutting him off at the pass.

On 38 minutes, the Swiss No 1 was in stunning form again as he stooped low to turn away a deflected Ryan Christie effort from 25 yards out.

Soon after, Siegrist was called into action once more, clawing away an Edouard daisy-cutter after the Frenchman was played in by Elyounoussi.

The second half brought more of the same, with Siegrist palming away a curling Christie effort a minute after the restart.

Christopher Jullien fired a volley into The Shed from the resulting corner as the Bhoys continued to assert themselves on the clash.

Twisting and turning among a crowd of defenders in the box, Edouard was able to get a shot off which was comfortably saved on 49 minutes.

There was a let off for United just before the hour mark as Christie scooped over when it looked he was about to lash home the opener inside the area.

A flighted pass from Jullien almost had Edouard in on 66 minutes as the game remained locked at 0-0.

The Tangerines came alive in the second period moments later as Clark and substitute Adrian Sporle broke up the pitch.

The Argentine picked out Clark who laid the ball back into the path of Robson to unleash a stinging drive which Barkas had to get behind.

Hoops sub James Forrest cut in from the left and fired over on 73 minutes, with Callum McGregor dragging wide moments later.

Edouard’s curling free-kick with nine minutes remaining delicately kissed the crossbar as Celtic boss Neil Lennon’s frustration grew on the touchline.

Minutes later, however, his side made the breakthrough.

Siegrist did superbly to palm a Christie stinger up in the air before denying Edouard on the deck.

However, there was nothing he could do to stop league debutant Ajeti, with the Swiss smashing home the winner through a crowd of players and beyond his countryman on 83 minutes.

Forrest came close to making it two in stoppage time but Siegrist was up to the task once more.

They were made to work for it but, in the end, however, Celtic escaped the City of Discovery with all three points.

Dundee United XI (4-2-3-1): Siegrist (GK); Neilson (Freeman 60), Connolly, Reynolds; Robson; Butcher, Pawlett; Bolton (McMullan 74), Harkes, Chalmers (Sporle 65); Clark (Appere 74).

Subs not used: Deniz (GK), Powers, C Smith, King and Glass.

Celtic XI (4-2-3-1): Barkas (GK); Frimpong, Jullien, Bitton, Taylor (Ajeti 74); Brown (C), McGregor; Christie, Ntcham (Ajer 74), Elyounoussi (Forrest 62); Edouard (Klimala 86).

Subs not used: Bain (GK), Soro, Elhamed, Harper and McInroy.

Referee: Andrew Dallas.

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