Celtic returned to winning ways on their return to Scottish Premiership action as Albian Ajeti's late strike earned a hard-fought 1-0 victory at Dundee United on Saturday.
It looked as though the champions were heading for another frustrating league draw but summer signing Ajeti came off the bench to break 83 minutes of stubborn Dundee United resistance with his first goal for the club.
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The victory lifts Celtic above Dundee United up to fourth in the Scottish Premiership table, six adrift of early leaders Rangers, who they have two games in hand on.
Dundee United: Siegrist (7), Robson (7), Connolly (7), Reynolds (7), Neilson (6), Bolton (7), Harkes (6), Butcher (6), Pawlett (6), Chalmers (6), Clark (6).
Subs: Sporle (6), McMullan (5), Freeman (6), Appere (5).
Celtic: Barkas (7), Frimpong (7), Jullien (6), Bitton (6), Taylor (6), Brown (6), McGregor (7), Christie (6), Ntcham (6), Elyounoussi (5), Edouard (7).
Subs: Ajeti (7), Klimala (n/a), Ajer (5), Forrest (6).
Man of the Match: Albian Ajeti.
How Ajeti introduced himself to Celtic
Celtic had returned to league action after missing the last two matches against St Mirren and Aberdeen through postponement after defender Boli Bolingoli breached coronavirus protocol, but there was no sign of rust from the champions.
The visitors had to be alert early on as Jeremie Frimpong used his pace to prevent Peter Pawlett getting a shot away against Celtic 'keeper Vasilis Barkas just 14 yards from goal.
The champions steadied and striker Odsonne Edouard struck the outside of Benjamin Siegrist's left-hand post on 12 minutes with a first-time drive after United skipper Mark Reynolds turned a Ryan Christie cross into his path.
With chances at a premium, Dundee United had to take their when they came, but Luke Bolton was guilty of spurning their first clear opening when he blazed over after Ian Harkes set his up at the end of a driving run.
At the other end, Siegrist was forced into two saves before the break as Christie and Edouard were denied in quick succession as a first-half breakthrough eluded them.
- Nicky Clark, Lewis Neilson and Jamie Robson were drafted into the Dundee United side following their victory over Ross County.
- Olivier Ntcham and Jeremie Frimpong returned as Celtic made two changes from the midweek Champions League qualifying victory over KR Reykjavik.
Within seconds of the restart Siegrist was called into action again to deny the same Celtic strike force, with Christie's long-range effort tipped over before Edouard low drive was smothered.
Jamie Robson registered Dundee United's first attempt on target on 68 minutes but his drive was straight down the throat of Barkas in the Celtic goal.
It failed to offer the hosts any respite as Celtic pushed for the opener, with an Edouard free-kick clipping to crossbar before the pressure finally told.
Siegrist made another fine save from a long-range Christie effort and Edouard kept the rebound alive before Ajeti arrive late on the scene to drill a deflected winner through bodies on the line as Celtic left it late to take the points back to Parkhead.
Celtic finally make the breakthrough! 😱— Sky Sports Scotland (@ScotlandSky) August 22, 2020
Benjamin Siegrist makes another fine stop to deny Ryan Christie but substitute Albian Ajeti is on hand to score his first Celtic goal! ⚽
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What the managers said…
Dundee United manager Micky Mellon: "I'm really frustrated, and that's good because we put on a performance that I believe deserved something from the game. It showed how far the club is moving in the right direction.
"We will look at the things we need to get better, but there was a hell of a lot to be pleased with and an awful lot we can work with.
"We wanted to take Celtic on, we didn't want to be dominated if we could help it, we wanted to make sure we represented Dundee United well and, but for a few minutes, we did and the work-rate was terrific."
Celtic boss Neil Lennon: "I'm delighted, it's a great team performance. We should have won the game by a lot more. After the initially opening flurry, we dominated the game in terms of attacking play and possession.
"Overall it was a great performance and a great win. Most of the time you come up against teams that are highly motivated and it's just a question of being patient, and Albian came up with a winner that will do him the world of good.
"We dominated play for long periods, but we just weren't sharp enough and took too many touches at times. But with this team you always think we'll get a goal and eventually we did, and we thoroughly deserved it."
Dundee United travel to Kilmarnock in the Scottish Premiership on Saturday at 3pm, before champions Celtic host Motherwell on Sunday at 3pm.