Motherwell turned in a sensational display to defeat league leaders Celtic at Fir Park on Sunday afternoon.
It brings Celtic’s 17-match unbeaten run to an abrupt halt, and catapults the Steelmen to within two points of fourth-placed Kilmarnock in the SPL.
McCall’s side were ahead within two minutes, as John Sutton strong-armed Charlie Mulgrew and clipped the pall past Fraser Forster before rolling into an empty net.
Celtic had plenty of possession but struggled to open up Motherwell’s make-shift backline and, in truth ‘Well had the better of the chances, with Keith Lasley and Chris Humphrey particularly prominent in an excellent all-round team display.
‘Well deservedly doubled their lead from the penalty spot early in the second half after the superb Lasley was clipped in the box. Sutton stepped up to smash the ball home and bag himself a brace.
Darren Randolph deserves plenty of credit too, as whenever Celtic did manage to create an opportunity they found Randolph in simply imperious form.
Motherwell made two changes to the side which were defeated 1-0 in midweek by St. Mirren, with Ross Forbes replacing Francis Jeffers and Steven Hammell coming in for the suspended Stephen Craigan, facilitating a move to centre-back for Gavin Gunning.
Celtic replaced the suspended Beram Kayal with Song-Yeung Ki and brought in Anthony Stokes for Samaras, as Lennon’s side looked to maintain their mesmerizing momentum from recent weeks.
The Parkhead side were coming into this clash on the back of 17 matches unbeaten, but it was Motherwell who flew out of the box with a blistering start at Fir Park.
Within 45 seconds of kick-off the Steelmen signaled their intent, with Chris Humphrey chasing down a lofted Tom Hateley pass, nipping past a toiling Mulgrew, and having his low cross blocked at the near post.
And just a minute later McCall’s men got their reward for an irrepressible opening period, and once again the chance was aided by indecisive defending by Charlie Mulgrew.
The former Aberdeen defender, so impressive against Rangers, failed to deal with a hopeful looping pass, allowing John Sutton to bustle in front of him and round Fraser Forster before slotting in to an empty net.
Naturally the table-toppers responded by throwing bodies forward in search of an immediate equaliser. Mark Wilson headed over from six yards, after getting on the end of a whipped Kris Commons delivery, in what amounted to the best attempt from the visitors in the early stages.
Indeed, it is worth praising the way a young central defensive partnership, Gunning and Hutchinson, dealt with the threat of Stokes and Hooper. While a re-jigged midfield five were tenacious and energetic during frenetic opening exchanges.
As the half-hour mark approached Neil Lennon’s men visibly tried to turn the screw on the home side. After a lucky bounce inside the box, Anthony Stokes should have made the score 1-1, but his tame low effort was saved by Randolph.
And Randolph made another, even better, save moments later, as he parried a superb low shot by Scott Brown wide of the post. The shot, fired in from 25 yards, looked goal-bound all the way and it was a magnificent stop from the former Charlton keeper.
After negotiating the first truly concerted spell of pressure from Celtic, the Steelmen almost extended their lead. A superb triangle of passing on the left flank between Murphy, Lasley and Hammell released the left-back, and John Sutton was a matter of inches away from getting on the end of Hammell’s delivery.
Motherwell managed to retain their hard-fought lead through to half-time thanks to a clearance off the line, and Anthony Stokes fired in a dangerous cross-cum-shot.
McCall’s men may have been hanging on a little towards the end of the first half, but the emerged in sensational fashion for the second half. They were almost 2-0 up when Shaun Hutchinson rose highest to crass a header against the underside of the bar from a Ross Forbes corner.
And Motherwell did get their second goal just moments later after Keith Lasley was tripped in the box by Emilio Izaguirre. John Sutton stepped up to take the kick and lashed his effort straight down the middle to give Forster no chance and double the Steelmen’s lead.
John Sutton was threatening to run away with the headlines from this encounter, but Darren Randolph was also putting down a serious marker for man of the match. The Irish keeper had to be at his best again ten minutes into the second half to turn away a dangerous low Commons free-kick – bringing his tally of top saves to three for the afternoon.
The visitors threw on Juarez, Samaras and Forrest as they desperately chased a way back into the game, but Motherwell’s energy levels and organisation were prodigious and, approaching the closing stages, Lennon’s side had yet to really carve open ‘Well’s youthful backline.
A curling effort from Kris Commons proved to be the closest Celtic would come to a riposte as the Glasgow giants visibly ran out of ideas as the match progressed – but that was, again, palmed away brilliantly by Darren Randolph.
[tab:As it happened]
Graham Barnstaple at Fir Park
Full Time: Motherwell (Sutton ) 2 – 0 Celtic. Motherwell were simply magnificent this afternoon & deservedly beat the form team in Scotland!!!
87mins: Motherwells defence have been unbreachable this afternoon, and there’s only minutes to go!! Well 2 – 0 Celtic.
75mins: Jamie Pollock replaces the tenacious Ross Forbes.
72mins: Champagne football from ‘Well, Hammell passes to Forbes, who dinks over to Hammell, back into Murph – but shot blocked by Sutton!!
66mins: Young James Forrest on for Ki for Celtic now, While ‘Well still have original XI out there. Hope the energy holds up!
62mins: Something of a lull in the play – which suits Motherwell just fine. Young CB’s have dealt win new Samaras threat just fine. 2-0 Well
54mins: ANOTHER great save from Randolph. He deserves plaudits from today too, as he turns away a dangerous Commons free-kick.
53mins: Celtic have brought on Samaras and Juarez as they chase a way into this game – but so far Motherwell have been simply brilliant.
49mins: Lasley was tripped in the box. Looked a penalty from up here. Expertly blasted home by Sutton – straight down the middle.
49mins: Sutton steps up………..AND SCOOOOORES 2-0 MOTHERWELL!!!
48mins: PENALTTTY MOTHERWELL, moments after Hutch hits bar…………
46mins: We’re under way again at Fir Park. Great first half from the lads. More of the same will do fine. Well 1 – 0 Celtic.
Half Time: Motherwell (Sutton ‘2) 1 – 0 Celtic
45mins: Looping cross to the back post comes to Stokes and his cross-cum-shot is cleared of the line. Hairy stuff here. Still 1-0 Well.
44mins: Shot wide of the post by Celtic, harmless enough. Hopefully that’s the last of the action before half time!
39mins: Anthony Stokes swivels and fires over the bar as Celtic push for an equaliser before half time. Still 1-0 Well.
35mins: Sutton inches away from getting on the end of a Hammell cross after some superb build-up play. Well 1 – 0 Celtic.
34mins: After expending a massive amount of energy on a heavy pitch in the first half, the game is slowing a little. Well still lead though
27mins: Having said that, Randolph has to pull of two wonderful saves, firstly from a low Stokes shot then a Brown effort from distance.
25mins: Celtic have had a lot of the ball and territory, but Motherwell have created the better openings thus far and deservedly lead 1-0..
24mins: Great run by Murphy and his cross narrowly evades Sutton, before Humphrey fires wide at the back post. Well 1-0 Celtic
19mins: Sutton is flagged for offside as he hares through on goal, rounds the keeper, and slots in. Looked tight, but can’t tell up here.
15mins: Worth pointing out how resolutely a young CB pairing Gunning & Hutch have done. Long way to go, but great start vs Hooper & Stokes
7mins: As you would imagine, Celtic now piling on pressure, and Mark Wilson heads narrowly over from a Commons delivery. Well 1-0 Celtic.
2mins: Big John chases down a through ball, Mulgrew hesitates, and Sutton nips in to round Forster and make it 1-0!!!
GOOOOOOOOOOAAAAAAAAAAAAAAALLLLLL MOTHERWELL!!!!!!!!!!!! (Sutton ‘2)
1min: We’re underway, and already Humphrey has had a bustling shot which was narrowly blocked by the Celtic defence. Promising.
Motherwell manager Stuart McCall:
“I thought from every one of our players it was superb. I asked them at half time to keep up the endeavour and keep up the work rate, and every single one of them did that. They were outstanding and I’m a very proud manager.
“It’s the best result I’ve had, definitely. Probably the best performance too – if you look at the side we’re up against and their record it is a great achievement. I’ve told the players to have a good night but my focus, straight away, goes to Inverness next Saturday.” The 46-year old insisted.
“Every manager looks for consistency and that is what I’m aiming for. There are still four other sides who will want to get fourth spot.
“We have Kilmarnock and Inverness coming up in a few weeks and then Dundee United and Aberdeen at home – so it’s still all to play for, but that result can give us hope and inspiration for the future.”
Celtic manager Neil Lennon:
“They have had a lot of nice things said about them this week and maybe they were believing in their own publicity. By our performance, maybe we underestimated them. I didn’t sense that in the week but there was a lack of competitiveness about us and quality, we did the opposite to what we have been doing the last couple of months and to be fair to them they have been excellent so I won’t be over critical.
“But it was poor. We were poor defensively, poor in midfield and poor going forward. There was nothing positive to take from the game.
“There was no collectiveness about us, we were disjointed and the goals we lost were appalling. You can’t give any team cheap goals and expect to win games.
“You can make up excuses for the pitch but it was the same for both sides. We didn’t adapt to the conditions and we were second best. It’s not a criticism I can level at the players very often but Motherwell were hungrier.
“Any time we have had a poor performances we have bounced back pretty well and I am looking for a reaction now in the next nine, 10 games.”