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GLASGOW: Joe Ledley grabbed a double as Celtic easily saw off ten-men Dundee 5-0 to open a 21 point gap at the top of the Scottish Premier League and move ominously closer to retaining their title.
The Welsh midfielder took advantage of an error from Rab Douglas to give Celtic, who had made five changes for the match, a 13th minute lead.
However, Dundee would have felt unfortunate not to have gone in level at the break after Gary Harkins had a fifth minute strike from a free-kick ruled out for a tight offside decision before the striker hit the bar with a header.
Dundee defender Matt Lockwood came on at the break but the defender’s appearance was limited to just over three minutes after he was sent off for hauling down Gary Hooper in the box, with James Forrest converting the penalty.
The visitors then collapsed and Dylan McGeouch headed in a 57th minute header before Ledley got his second in the 73rd minute.
Gary Hooper finally ended his four game goal drought as he fired in a fabulous fifth in the 83rd minute as Celtic moved to within four wins of the SPL title.
“That performance was a bit Jekyll and Hyde. The first half we weren’t great and in the second half we were excellent,” Celtic manager Neil Lennon said.
“It was a good all round performance and a clean sheet. Dundee can feel a bit aggrieved as I’m sure the turning point was the penalty and the sending off but it looked pretty clear cut to me.”
Dundee first team coach Ray Farningham felt his side equipped themselves well in the first half.
“I couldn’t fault the boys and I though they had chances in the game. Our possession and organisation was good in the first half,” Farningham said.
“Obviously the sending off kills the game for us.”
As a former Rangers player Dundee’s new interim manager John Brown was afforded a hot reception by the home support before the match.
But his side soon silenced the crowd in the fifth minute when Harkins looked to have given Dundee the lead after Forster bundled in his low free-kick from a tight angle on the left-wing at his near post.
However, referee Kevin Clancy cut short the celebrations as he ruled out his effort after he adjudged a Dundee player had strayed just offside.
Celtic’s new look line-up were taking their time to gel together but took the lead after a mistake from Douglas.
The former Hoops keeper flapped at Emilio Izaguirre’s cross and could only palm it out as far as Ledley who fired it in from close range.
Dundee were belying their lowly status and nearly found an equaliser in the 36th minute when Baird teed up Harkins with the forward sending in a looping effort that Forster had to scramble to tip over the bar.
There was to be more bad luck for Harkins as his glancing header from the resulting corner bounced off the turf and then hit the crossbar before the Hoops cleared the danger.
Substitute Lockwood quickly saw red after the break for hauling Hooper down in the box with Forrest sending Douglas the wrong way as he buried the resultant spot-kick low into the bottom right-hand corner.
Nearly 50 points separate the sides at the top and bottom of the SPL and with their extra man advantage Celtic began to make this gulf in class show as McGeouch made it 3-0 in the 57th minute. Stokes clipped a cross from the left to the far post where McGeouch leapt highest to bullet a header past Douglas.
Ledley scored the second goal in the 63rd minute while Hooper wrapped up the scoring in the 83rd. REUTERS