Saturday 3 December 2016, 12.15, Fir Park
A trip through to Lanarkshire for the early kick off between Motherwell and Celtic in the Scottish Premiership.
A second visit to Fir Park of the season and since that defeat to Hearts at the end of September, Motherwell’s fortunes had been mixed. Home wins against Ross County and Partick Thistle, but defeats at home to Inverness and at Celtic, Dundee and in their most recent game at Hearts saw them sitting just in the top half of the league. Despite being in sixth place, they were only two points clear of bottom of the table Partick Thistle.
It was a first viewing of the Scottish Champions this season for us.
Celtic were founded in 1887 with the aim to help alleviate poverty in the immigrant Irish population in the East End of Glasgow. They quickly established themselves, winning six successive league titles in the 1910s.
The success has continued ever since with 47 league titles, the Scottish Cup 36 times and the Scottish League Cup 16 times. Their greatest period came in the 1960s and 70s under Jock Stein when they won nine consecutive league titles and the European Cup, the first British team to do so. They also reached the 1970 European Cup Final, and the 2003 UEFA Cup Final.
Celtic beat Aberdeen 3-0 in the weekend before this match and were undefeated in the league with ten wins in a row leading into the game. They sat 8 points clear of second placed Hearts with 3 games in hand.
Celtic have already beaten the men from Fir Park 5-0 and 2-0 at Parkhead this season, so a tough afternoon was likely for Motherwell. Indeed, they hadn’t lost a league goal since 24 September, when Kilmarnock got a solitary goal in a 6-1 win for Celtic.
Motherwell had Carl McHugh and Joe Chalmers missing through injury, while Celtic were without Scott Sinclair and Kieran Tierney. Stevie Hammell returned to the Well side in place of Jack McMillan and Ross MacLean came in for David Ferguson. Celtic made one change to their cup winning side, with Kolo Toure stepping in for the Erik Sviatchenko.
There was a minute’s silence before the game as a mark of respect for all of those who lost their lives in the tragic air crash in Colombia involving Brazilian club, Chapecoense.
There were 8,535 in attendance.
It didn’t take long for the game to burst into life. McDonald played the ball back to McManus in his own half in the third minute and the centre half lofted a ball over the top of the Celtic defence and found Moult. He ran off Toure and from the edge of the box, lifted a first-time volley over the head of Gordon and into the net to give Well and early lead. A fine finish.
Celtic were stunned and looked to get back on level terms quickly. Roberts played the ball to Lustig on the right in four minutes and his ball into the box was behind Dembele, but he did well to get a touch to it, then spin and volley at goal, but it was well over.
With 6 minutes gone, Roberts burst past McManus into the box on the right-hand side for Celtic, but his cut back looking for Dembele was well read by Heneghan, who turned the ball behind.
Celtic were trying to get their sharp passing game together, but Motherwell were closing down very quickly in their own half. The home side were also showing some decent sharp passing, but both sides were looking firm in their tackling.
McManus played another good ball from his own half in 17 minutes. This time he picked out Tait on the right. He cushioned a volley to Moult on the edge of the box and he flicked the ball past Toure for Cadden on the right of the box. His cut back almost found McDonald, but Simunovic slid in to make a vital interception.
Heneghan saved Motherwell again with a fine block on Rogic as he shot from the edge of the Well box in 18 minutes.
Celtic broke quickly in 21 minutes and Dembele squared for Forrest on the edge of the box, but he miscued his effort and it trundled wide.
Izaguirre picked up the first booking of the afternoon after bringing down the tricky Cadden as he ran towards the Celtic goal.
In 27 minutes, Cadden played a one-two with McDonald and raced down the right. His cross from the by-line was met at the front post by Moult, whose shot went inches wide of the far post as he got there in front of Simunovic.
Moult was first to go in the book for Well as he caught Brown as he cleared the ball in 28 minutes.
A loose ball fell to Armstrong 20 yards out in 29 minutes, but Heneghan threw himself in front of the shot to block.
Celtic manager Brendan Rogers was clearly concerned as he rejigged his defence with 30 minutes gone, using his first substitution of the match.
Brown robbed Moult on half way in 30 minutes with what looked like a push and ran forward before playing to Dembele on the left of the box, but the striker’s touch was heavy and he could only run it out of play.
Celtic were starting to force the game and had three corners in succession which came to nothing before a fine strike from Armstrong in 34 minutes went narrowly wide.
In 35 minutes, Celtic appealed for a foul as MacLean got the ball from Lustig with a sliding challenge on the left, midway in Celtic’s half. The ref waved away appeals and MacLean crossed to the back post where Moult had escaped Toure again and he volleyed past Gordon, despite the keeper getting a hand to it. It did look like a foul to me.
Motherwell two in front. I don’t think anyone was expecting a start like that.
MacLean was next to go in the book for a sliding challenge on Lustig in 43 minutes. This time he did seem to get the ball first, although he did catch the defender on the follow through.
A Motherwell fan helpfully offered his glasses to the officials.
Brown was perhaps lucky to escape a booking for a similar challenge on Moult to the one MacLean was booked for, on the half way line in 44 minutes.
Two minutes into injury time Dembele showed good feet in the Motherwell box, but lashed his shot wide.
Motherwell were still two up as the half time whistle blew.
Heneghan and McManus had performed heroically at the heart of the home defence, with blocks and tackles which meant Celtic had very few clear sights of goal. Roberts looked lively for Celtic and Armstrong was a big influence, always involved in the good things.
Celtic were always going to come out all guns blazing at the start of the second half and like in the first half, we didn’t have to wait long.
In 48 minutes, Celtic were probing at the edge of the Well box. McGregor played a one-two with Armstrong on the edge of the box and then he had a great dummy which took Heneghan out of the game before lashing the ball low into the bottom corner to get Celtic back in it.
Motherwell were already starting to sit deeper than they did in the first half.
Dembele laid the ball back to Armstrong in 53 minutes and he found Rogic on the edge of the Motherwell box. He turned away from Clay before running into the box and taking on Hammell, but Samson blocked his shot.
A Celtic corner in 54 minutes fell to Forrest, but both Moult and Clay threw themselves at the ball and managed to deflect it behind.
Motherwell were struggling to get the ball away and Roberts picked the ball up on the right in 55 minutes and flashed the ball across goal, but there were no takers.
Brown got his inevitable booking in 56 minutes for pulling back Clay.
Toure took a chance in 57 minutes when a ball into the Celtic box saw him with his arms all over Moult before he headed behind.
It wasn’t long before Celtic were back on the attack with Roberts playing the ball into Dembele’s feet in 59 minutes. He pushed the ball into the path of Forrest, but his powerful shot was too high.
As Celtic probed again around the Motherwell box, the home side had every man behind the ball.
McManus was next to go in the book for catching Brown with a swinging arm as Motherwell lined up a free kick in 63 minutes.
In 64 minutes, McGregor passed to Rogic around 20 yards out, but Samson pushed away his curling effort.
Dembele was next to get a sight of the Motherwell goal, taking a pass from Rogic, but Heneghan managed to do enough to take the sting out of the shot and it was a comfortable save for Samson.
Cadden was forced to limp off in 69 minutes which was a blow for Motherwell as he had shown some good quality.
Celtic came forward again in 70 minutes and Forrest fed Armstrong on the left. He got to the by-line and chipped the ball to the back post where Roberts’ late run wasn’t picked up by the defence and his downward header brought the equaliser. It had been coming.
The Celtic fans, who had been quiet for much of the game, were now very much involved, but they were silenced again a minute later.
Clay played the ball back to Hammell on the left and his cross to the back post found substitute Ainsworth who, probably with his first touch, volleyed home. He was all on his own as he put the home side back in front.
This was proving to be some game and in 72 minutes, Roberts found Armstrong in the Motherwell box and he took a great first touch and swivelled to drill the ball low into the corner to make it 3-3.
Ainsworth was the next Motherwell player booked in 74 minutes for holding onto the ball, but Simunovic was lucky not to join him after he pushed him away.
Celtic could smell a win now and Roberts got to the by-line in 76 minutes and his low ball across goal caused panic in the Well rear guard, but they managed to scramble it clear.
It was attack against defence as Celtic searched for the winner and it was all about if Motherwell could hold on.
McGregor’s corner in 79 minutes was headed downwards by Dembele and Samson managed to block. Rogic got his head to the rebound but Motherwell managed to clear the ball away.
In a rare foray up the pitch for Motherwell in 83 minutes, McManus got his head to an Ainsworth corner, but Gordon was well placed to catch it.
In the last minute, Forrest played the ball to Rogic just outside the box, he cut inside and unleashed an unstoppable shot into the far corner to give Celtic the lead for the first time and provoke wild celebrations in the away end.
There were 5 minutes of injury time, but no real chances.
A great game to watch but you had to feel a bit sorry for Motherwell, although they defended far too deep in the second half. They always tried to play on the break, but seeing all ten outfield players lined up on the edge of their own box was too much. I also don’t think I’ve ever seen a team score three volleys in the same game.
Heneghan and McManus defended manfully throughout but the pressure became too much. Cadden showed flashes of invention before succumbing to injury and Moult showed his scoring prowess once again.
Celtic showed amazing patience to continue their probing passing game throughout and you could feel the winner coming. Armstrong was outstanding and was ably assisted by Rogic and Roberts. McGregor was also impressive for the hour he was on. They do need to look at their defending.
Full Time: Motherwell 3 Celtic 4
Motherwell: 1 Craig Samson, 2 Richard Tait (Bowman 92), 4 Ben Heneghan, 6 Stephen McManus, 3 Stevie Hammell, 12 Chris Cadden (Ainsworth 69), 14 Keith Lasley, 20 Craig Clay, 27 Ross MacLean (McMillan 73), 77 Scott McDonald, 9 Louis Moult. Subs: 7 Lionel Ainsworth, 11 Ryan Bowman, 13 Dean Brill, 23 Dom Thomas, 25 David Ferguson, 26 Allan Campbell, 30 Jack McMillan.
Celtic: 1 Craig Gordon, 23 Mikael Lustig, 5 Jozo Simunovic, 2 Kolo Touré, 3 Emilio Izaguirre, (McGregor 30), 14 Stuart Armstrong, 8 Scott Brown, 27 Patrick Roberts (Bitton 92), 18 Tom Rogic, 49 James Forrest (Gamboa 94), 10 Moussa Dembele. Subs: 6 Nir Bitton, 12 Cristian Gamboa, 16 Gary Mackay-Steven, 17 Ryan Christie, 20 Dedryck Boyata, 24 Dorus de Vries, 42 Callum McGregor.
Referee: Kevin Clancy