Kris Jack at Fir Park
Motherwell relinquished second position in the SPL, losing 2-1 to Celtic in a thrilling high-noon showdown.
Michael Higdon gave ‘Well the lead after 10 minutes, but that was cancelled out almost immediately by Anthony Stokes’ close range volley.
Sub Gary Hooper got the winner before Clancy saw red for the home team.
The midday kick off had all the makings of an instant classic, given the current circumstances of both side; Motherwell were looking to keep the momentum going after last week’s dramatic win over Inverness, knowing another three points would put them six clear of todays opponents, while Celtic had the ignominy of knowing that a loss at Fir Park would dent their title credentials even further.
Steve Jennings returned to the Well side after missing out in the Highlands with a back injury. Last week’s returning goalscorer Shaun Hutchinson dropped to the bench, pairing Craigan with Clancy at the centre of defence. Stevie Hammell recovered from the horrific gash and ankle injury suffered up north to make his 400th appearance in Claret and Amber.
Neil Lennon set out his team minus Korean midfielder Ki Sung Yeung and had Gary Hooper on the bench, with Stokes and Samaras the preferred Celtic frontline.
With Stuart McCall and Keith Lasley having been awarded October’s Clydesdale Bank Manager and Player of the Month respectively, they would have been hoping for the plaudits to keep coming.
And Motherwell started in fine fashion. Motherwell’s first attack of the game resulted in a corner, and five further corners would follow in the opening stages as ‘Well penned in their Glasgow visitors. They duly took the lead on 10 minutes.
A well worked corner between Hateley and Law found it’s way in to the box and Michael Higdon was on hand to glance the ball past Forster to make it 1-0 to Motherwell.
It was a deserved early lead for the Steelmen, but it would prove fleeting. From a whipped Kris Commons delivery, Samaras flicked a header to the back post which was unerringly volleyed in by Anthony Stokes to level what was fast becoming a pulsating encounter.
On 24 minutes, Celtic were awarded a free kick 25 yards out when Lasley illegally stopped Forrest’s run. Common’s low driven set piece fell to Samaras, whose turn and shot was deflected wide.
A nice passage of play between Jennings and Murphy allowed the young forward to pick out Higdon on the penalty spot, but his effort on Forster was too tame and straight; understandable given the close attention of the towering Majstorovic.
A Craigan header from a Hateley corner fell wide as the pace of the first half fell to a simmer after a boisterous first 20 minutes.
An inswinging Hateley corner – a common event in the first half – had Forster clawing the ball out from under his bar as the second half ended with Motherwell making the running.
Celtic had the first clear cut opportunity of the second half when a long ball forward found Stokes outpacing Craigan. The ‘Well captain did superbly not to trip Stokes and the Irish forward was thwarted by a terrific Darren Randolph save, with the goal at his mercy.
Motherwell had the chance to take the lead in the most magical circumstances. A wonderfully deft lob from Lasley completely bamboozled a square Celts backline and set Nicky Law through on goal, but the ball would not land quick enough for Law to get a decent shot on Forster.
In a bid to bolster their attacking options, Hooper came off the bench in place of Commons for Celtic – a measure of the visitor’s depth, and a move which would prove vital as the game progressed.
Nicky Law and Jamie Murphy created Motherwell’s first real chance of the half, when a nice back-heel from the former Rotherham man sent Murphy romping in to the box. His cross from the byline evaded any takers as Celtic cleared the danger.
Murphy was looking lively and only a touch too much in the box prevented him from getting a shot in when Humphrey’s deep cross picked him out.
Gary Hooper’s first attempt on goal was an improvised flick from a Rogne free kick, but it fell comfortably in to Randolph’s arms.
Neil Lennon’s second substitution was to bring on McCourt to replace Samaras with 15 minutes to go. It, too, would be an inspired move.
It was McCourt who would make the impact with 10 minutes remaining. The Northern Irishman’s unchallenged run saw him pick out a pass to Stokes. His centre from the byline was prodded home from close range by McCourt’s fellow sub Gary Hooper to make it 2-1 in Celtic’s favour.
It got worse for Motherwell as Tim Clancy was red carded for an off the ball spat with Hooper, all but ending any realistic hope of a turnaround.
Motherwell slip to 3rd in the SPL on goal difference due to Hooper’s late winner and will hope to bounce back away to Aberdeen on their next outing.
[tab:As it happened]
Alan Temple at Fir Park
Full Time: #Motherwell (Higdon 11) 1 – 2 #Celtic (Stokes 14, Hooper 79). On another day the ‘Well get at least a point. Valiant effort.
90mins: Dylan McGeough – a player who’s played for Celtic, then Rangers, then Celtic again – comes on for Forrest.
89mins: Daley hits the by-line but his cross is cleared behind by Majstorovic.
84mins: Daley on for Humphrey while Shaun Hutchinson fills the void left by Clancy, replacing Jamie Murphy.
83mins: Tim Clancy is given a straight red. Those of you in front of a TV will presumably have more of an idea what for than I do…..
79mins – Immediate McCourt magic; weaves past several challenges, feeds Stokes, whose cross-cum-shot is tapped in by Hooper. Harsh on Motherwell.
79mins: Goal Celtic (Hooper) 1-2.
77mins: Steve Jennings comes off for Stu Carswell. Fresh legs in the middle after Jenno puts in great shift. McCourt for Samaras too.
75mins – 15 minutes left and this could still go either way. Hell for leather stuff all day, and you feel there’s a winner in it one way or another.
66mins: Fantastic play between Law and Murphy sets Murph free in the box, but his cross is scrambled clear. Great play by the ‘Well. 1-1.
62mins: Motherwell coaching staff just getting some messages over to Craigan, Jenno and Hammell as Cha Du-Ri gets treatment for injury.
60mins: Celtic turn to Gary Hooper, coming on for Kris Commons.
57mins – Moments before that Steve Jennings made a cracking challenge on Commons inside the box. Away fans scream for the pen – ref ignores.
56mins: Lasley with an absolutely beautiful lobbed through ball to Law, but the ball won’t fall quickly enough and Forster smothers!
53mins: Stokes booked after a tangle with Clancy. Celtic fans irate with the decision by Mr Richmond.
50mins: Randolph makes a super point-blank save from Stokes after the Irishman is set through on goal by long Majstorovic pass.
47mins – There’s not a single Celtic player wearing black boots. Just an observation on modern football really.
46mins – Second half underway. Big half for both clubs here.
HT: #Motherwell (Higdon 11) 1 – 1 #Celtic (Stokes 14). About right on balance of play. Motherwell have done well though. All to play for.
45+1mins: Jennings booked after a few fouls over the course of the half.
43mins: Fraser Forster is forced to look alive to tip a whipped Hateley corner out from underneath his bar. Decent save actually. 1-1.
37mins: Tom Hateley whips in *another* corner for Motherwell, but Stephen Craigan’s header flies wide of the post. Still 1-1 at Fir Park.
30mins: Murphy fires a low cross into the box but Higdon can only get a fairly tame effort in from 12 yards under pressure. Forster holds.
28mins: Keith Lasley booked after a flailing arm catches Kayal. Not sure there was any intent, but the connection was there.
25mins: Samaras fires inches past the post after a blocked Commons free-kick
22mins: A first slight lull in the play after an utterly breathless start. ‘Well still competing well. 1-1.
Immediate response from Celtic. Commons whips in a corner, flicked on by Samaras and volleyed in at back post by Stokes. Pure simplicity.
14mins: Goal Celtic (Stokes) 1-1.
You can’t say it hasn’t been coming. Motherwell have penned Celtic in and have had 5 corners in 11 minutes. #deserved.
Tom Hateley plays short corner with Hammell. Tom’s inswinger is brilliant, and Higdon nods home from point-blank range! Stunning start.
11mins: GOOOOOOOAAAAL Motherwell (Higdon!!) 1-0.
10mins: Another corner for Motherwell. Fantastic last 5mins for McCalls men.
8mins: In-swinging corner is well collected by Forster, calming the pressure from the Steelmen which was building.
6mins: Tom Hateley with two corners in quick succession, both block before Murphy sees shot from 25 yards charged down. Better.
1min: Celtic clearly keen. Anthony Stokes with a blocked shot within seconds of the start.
Motherwell manager Stuart McCall:
“I’ve got nothing but pride and positives to take from today’s game. There was nothing in it.
“Today I didn’t think we got what we deserved – I’ve got to be honest. I thought it was a terrific game, but we merited a point.
“I really couldn’t ask any more from my players. There are ways to lose games – although you still don’t get points either way – and I would have been proud to play in that Motherwell team today.”
Celtic assistant manager Alan Thompson:
“If you want to go and win the title then I think the game was a must-win. If we don’t win today it is virtually impossible but we hung on in there.
“So it was huge and it is a relief to get the last two games out the way. They were pressure games, no doubt about it, today more so I think.
“We keep asking the same group of players to go again. On Thursday night after going a goal behind it could have gone the other way against a great Rennes team, so it is was a relief and now we can start preparing for the next game.”