Phil McGhee at Celtic Park
Motherwell failed to capitalise on Celtic’s midweek European exertions as the Parkhead side cruised to a comfortable 2-0 win.
Sadly, for the Fir Park fans in the stadium, they watched their side surrender a seven game unbeaten run with little fight, with the Celtic ‘keeper Fraser Forster not required to make a single save until five minutes from time.
With only three points separating the teams at kick-off, and both sides enjoying great league form, a close encounter was anticipated. Injuries to James McFadden and Henri Anier forced Stuart McCall into making two changes with Iain Vigurs and Lionel Ainsworth coming into the starting line-up.
Undoubtedly the loss of the Estonian striker was a blow as John Sutton was asked to lead the attack on his own. But with five players across the midfield, the ploy was for Ainsworth and Zaine Francis-Angol to push forward on the wings and supply Sutton.
However, after an early break when Sutton used his strength to get past Efe Ambrose at the edge of the box then failed to find Francis-Angol, play was contained to the visitors half. A series of crosses tested the ‘Well back four but there was nothing for the home fans to get excited about.
Indeed most of their attention and boos were directed at Keith Lasley after his strong blocking tackle on Adam Matthews resulted in the Celtic full back being stretchered off with a shoulder injury.
Then after 22 minutes, and out of nothing, Celtic took the lead. James Forrest’s cross was bouncing away from goal as Lee Hollis came out to punch clear. But as he attempted to get beyond Teemu Pukki, the ball took an awkward bounce and he only succeeded in playing the ball in front of Anthony Stokes.
Although the angle was tight, the on-form Celtic striker lashed the ball high past the stranded ‘keeper and into the unguarded goal.
The goal forced ‘Well to be a bit more adventurous and up until half time, the Fir Park players looked much more comfortable as they passed the ball around and pressed towards the home goal.
However, It took a fabulous save from Hollis on the half hour to deny Kris Commons what would have been a killer second goal.
At the other end, Ainsworth was causing Emilio Izaguirre some problems and after two hefty challenges from the Honduran full back, referee Iain Brines produced his yellow card. From the resultant free kick, Simon Ramsden found Sutton but his knock down bounced around the penalty box with no takers.
Motherwell’s first attempt at goal came a minute from the break but the ball wouldn’t come down quickly enough for Ainsworth 20 yards out and his volley sailed high over the cross bar.
Hopes of a more promising second half from ‘Well were dashed after only four minutes when Celtic doubled their lead.
A careless pass gave possession to Commons in the middle of the park and he headed for goal almost unchallenged, skipping round Stevie Hammell at edge of the box before dinking the ball past the advancing Hollis to double ‘Well’s task.
And Celtic might have added more as Hammell blocked Virgil van Dijk’s shot and Hollis denied Forrest with his feet. Just short of the hour mark Stuart McCall took the gamble of bringing on a less than fully fit Anier for Vigurs.
Minutes later Ainsworth limped with Fraser Kerr taking over in midfield. It might not have changed the game but a high challenge from Izaguirre on Fraser went unpunished by the referee, fully aware that a foul would have resulted in a second yellow for the Celtic player.
In the closing stages Motherwell looked busier in and around the Celtic box.
Stuart Carswell’s cross forced Forster to punch clear but although the ball landed in front of Anier his quick return was blocked.
In the 85th minute the Celtic ‘keeper produced a stunning save to deny Sutton his sixth goal of the season.
Francis-Angol delivered a terrific cross into the six yard box and Sutton’s downward header looked certain to give ‘Well a late consolation goal until Forster dived low to his left to palm the ball away.
[tab:As it happened]
Ally Reilly at Celtic Park
FT: Celtic 2 – 0 Motherwell
90mins: 3 minutes added on
86mins: Motherwell sub, Lasley off for Lawson. Also a Celtic sub, Izaguirre off for Balde
85mins: Forster finally called into action with a great save to deny Sutton from 8 yards. Seconds later, Sutty volleys just past the post!
82min: Right, another corner………front post delivery headed clear then returned by Carswell and punched clear by Forster
80mins: Another ‘Well corner comes to nothing. Frustrating day at the office as we’ve not troubled Forster once.
75mins: Celtic sub: Pukki off for Biton
71mins: Kerr hacked down by Izaguirre but nothing given?! Can only assume ref thought he didn’t have the ball under control?
69mins: Commons gets a bit of space between our defence and midfield, turns and shoots well over the bar.
63mins: Corner to Motherwell….Celtic clear.
62mins: Motherwell sub, Ainsworth off for Kerr. Lionel looked to be carrying s knock
58mins: Stokes should have burst the net there after a quick break from Celtic. Blasted well over though!
57mins: Motherwell sub, Anier on for Vigurs
54mins: Hollis with another good block with his feet from Forrest. Under a lot of pressure now.
50mins: Van Dijk afforded too much space around our box and manages to weave his way through. Thankfully Hammell is on hand to block
48mins: GOAL – Commons makes it 2-0 with a fine individual effort to be fair.
47mins: Forrest cuts inside Hammell then back outside and gets a shot away. Straight at Hollis.
46mins: Second half underway. COYW
HT: Celtic 1 – 0 Motherwell
45mins: Francis-Angol’s cross is headed to the edge of the box where Ainsworth is lurking. Volley’s well over from 20 yards though.
44mins: Last 5 minutes have been ‘Well’s best spell of the game. Still to test Forster though.
39mins: Izaguirre booked for a reckless tackle on Ainsworth
35mins: Izaquirre fires just past the post from 25 yards
33mins: Corner to ‘Well……set piece cleared with ease
29mins: Great save from Hollis 1v1 with Forrest!
24mins: First sort of chance there for ‘Well. Ramsden found Sutton in the box but his touch is heavy and Van Dijk clears.
22mins: Almost two there as Commons gets on the end of Izaguirre’s cross and heads inches past the post!
20mins: GOAL! Stokes makes it 1-0. Ball takes a bizarre spin away from Hollis and Stoke finishes well from a tight angle
17mins: Struggling to get any sort of meaningful possession here. Camped in our own half and defending resolutely.
13mins: Forrest replaces the injured Matthews
9mins: Matthews goes down under a heavy challenge in the box from Lasley. Las got the ball, however Matthews is now being stretchered off
3mins: Danger as Izaguirre’s cross causes some indecision in the box. Hollis gathers at the second attempt.
1min: Game is underway. COYW!
Motherwell manager Stuart McCall:
“Once we grew into the game I was fairly happy, but both goals are poor from our point of view.
“We gave them a little bit too much respect.”
Celtic manager Neil Lennon:
“Against a very good Motherwell team, it’s an exceptional performance.
“Looking at the players yesterday, you could see they were all in good condition, and I think they were just looking forward to getting out there and playing again.
“We controlled the game and some of the chances we created were great.