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Van Dijk strike takes Celtic three points clear at the top

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Celtic defeat St Johnstone 3-0. © Phil McCloyVirgil van Dijk’s second-half goal moved Celtic three-points clear at the top of the Scottish Premiership in a 1-0 win over Partick Thistle.

The Dutchman’s cool volley – his third strike in two games – extended the Hoops’ domestic unbeaten run to eight matches.
Yet this wasn’t a vintage performance from Ronny Deila’s men by any matter of means.

The Maryhill outfit looked much more organized from the team that got thrashed 6-0 in the League Cup at Parkhead only in October.

But after Celtic’s third game in just six days, the champions will be pleased to bag another victory over their Glasgow neighbours.

Aleksander Tonev made a rare start for the Hoops whilst Charlie Mulgrew returned to action following a rib injury.

Jags boss Alan Archibald made three changes to his side after Saturday’s 2-0 win over Hamilton by bringing in Aaron Muirhead, Conrad Balatoni and James Craigen.

Thistle keeper Paul Gallacher was called into action after nine minutes, tipping a John Guidetti header over the ball following an instinctive cross by Stefan Johansen.

The Swedish hitman then returned the favour minutes later, but Johansen blazed his diving header well wide of Gallacher’s goal.

Celtic continued to squander chances, with Tonev and Van Dijk failing to trouble the 35 year-old keeper with ambitious efforts.

The Jags threatened in the 22nd minute after Kallum Higginbotham expertly pinpointed bombing full-back Stephen O’Donnell with a superb cross-field pass.

O’Donnell found his way into the Celtic penalty area before testing Craig Gordon’s near post, but the Scotland internationalist gathered with ease.

The Hoops continued to be wasteful in front of goal, with Johansen again linking with Guidetti, only for the Man City loan star to miss the target from eight yards.

Stuart Bannigan’s free-kick on the half-hour mark was met by Abdul Osman, but the midfielder headed just over the bar.

At the other end, Gallacher was tested once more as an outstanding long-field pass by Van Dijk found Johansen, who again wasted a great opportunity by firing straight into the 35 year-old’s hands.

With five minutes of the first-half remaining, the Hoops wasted another glorious chance to take the lead.

Johansen surged through the Thistle defence and found Guidetti. The Swede attempted to round Gallacher before failing and electing to pass to Scott Brown. The skipper ignored shouts from the home support to shot, instead squaring to Anthony Stokes who amazingly failed to open the scoring from 12 yards.

Thistle were lucky to enter the break level, as the Celtic fans were left scratching their heads as to how they had yet to witness a goal.

Nir Bitton replaced Mulgrew at half-time as Deila tried to inject freshness into his jaded side.

Four minutes later, Van Dijk was again the architect as he executed a wonderful through-ball to Tonev who only had Gallacher to beat from 12-yards. Instead, the Bulgarian winger somehow blasted his effort against the side netting.

However, Celtic’s relentless pressure finally paid off as they eventually took the lead on the hour.

Norwegian midfielder Johansen’s free-kick fell to Van Dijk, who quickly fired past Gallacher and into the back of the net from close-range.

It was to be the classy defender’s sixth goal of the season – the same amount converted by Hoops striker Stokes.

The Jags though, weren’t in the mood to feel sorry for themselves and continued to test Gordon’s goal with sub Kris Doolan coming close with four minutes left.

But the home side deservedly held on and collected a vital three-points.

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