Phil McGhee at Fir Park
Motherwell completed a rare home double win over Celtic to ensure a place in next season’s Europa League.
After falling behind to a Gary Hooper goal, the Fir Park side stunned Neil Lennon’s men with three goal inside twelve minutes either side of half-time.
Motherwell sportingly welcomed the newly crowned SPL champions on to the pitch with a guard of honour, but it was the ‘Well players who took all of the plaudits after a terrific ninety minutes.
Despite resting four players, Celtic made the brighter and more determined start with Tony Watt shooting over the bar within a couple of minutes.
An early booking for Shaun Hutchison put the defender under a bit of pressure for the remaining 87 minutes but, despite having to contend with the Greek International Georgios Samaras, the central defender was commanding throughout and might even have opened the scoring after seven minutes.
Nicky Law’s inswinging cross flashed across a begging goal and just beyond Hutchison’s lunge. Then, amidst a first half downpour, James McFadden brightened up the proceedings, weaving past a couple of defenders before driving his right foot shot narrowly past.
On the half hour mark, Samaras fell to the ground 25 yards out allowing Charlie Mulgrew to produce a trade mark curling free kick which Darren Randolph leapt to palm away.
The ‘Well keeper then produced a fabulous save spreading himself to block Gary Hooper who looked certain to sidefoot the ball home form four yards.
‘Well had strong appeals for a penalty after 34 minutes when Henrik Ojamaa’s drive into the box was glanced by Keith Lasley onto Thomas Rogne’s arm but a spot kick would have been harsh on the Norwegian.
Six minutes from half time Celtic took the lead. Watt raced away from Simon Ramsden and as Randolph elected to leave his line the ball was chipped over him to the waiting Hooper who crashed his header off the cross bar before hooking the rebound into the net.
A minute before the break the sides were back on level terms. Lasley’s incisive pass sent Ojamaa darting between Mulgrew and Rogne before drilling a superb finish inside Forster left hand post.
In an incredible turnaround, Motherwell grabbed the lead four minutes into the second half. Ojamaa tussled with Mulgrew for the ball just inside the box and as the Estonian fell to the ground Euan Norris pointed to the spot.
Although Forster saved Tom Hateley’s penalty at Parkhead in January, the Celtic ‘keeper had no chance this time as Michael Higdon confidently swept his kick high over the diving Foster to claim his 25th league goal of the season.
In an amazing spell, ‘Well made it three after 55 minutes. Rogne’s glancing header from Hateley’s cross almost cost him an own goal but his effort rebounded off the foot of the post and back off Foster and into the net.
As Celtic threw on forwards to try and recover the game the Parkhead defence was carved open as ‘Well chased more goals.
A terrific run and drive from Humphrey took a wicked deflection off Mulgrew and only an acrobatic save from Foster prevented the ball from dipping under the bar.
Ojamaa the sent McFadden stealing in behind the visitors defence but with plenty of time to pick his spot he hammered the ball off the keeper.
Another great save from Foster denied Higdon a second goal but the points and European football were well wrapped up before an Anthony Stokes shot bounced off the post in the final minute.
[tab:As it happened]
Alastair Reilly at Fir Park
Motherwell manager Stuart McCall:
“You demand energy and commitment, but some of the football was outstanding,
“I normally say you have to score the first goal to win against the Old Firm; what character to go behind, come back and put in a performance like that.
“I could go through the team. There were some huge performances. I said to the lads ‘enjoy that but don’t get carried away with three games to go’. But they’re special moments, to play as well as that against Celtic.
“It’s a really proud moment. We beat Celtic a few years ago, 2-0. One was a mistake by them and one was a dodgy penalty, but today I thought we won in style.
“As a coach, as a person and as a player, you always want to try and improve.
“We looked at the points tally of 62 we got last season – the highest we’ve ever had in the SPL. We’re on 60 now with three games to go. So I can’t speak highly enough of the group of players we’ve got.”
Celtic manager Neil Lennon:
“I don’t know where that came from. I felt we dominated the first-half and could have been two-up but a really poor call has cost us a goal. And then, for some reason, we didn’t come out the traps in the second half and lose it with a penalty and an own goal.
“From an attacking point of view, I thought we were really good and dangerous; defensively we were poor. Some players knew that there are Cup final places up for grabs but I am not too sure they took that today. A few of them looked as if they had switched off in the second-half and that is unacceptable.”