1 vs 4
Lindsay (61') Armstrong (39', 49') Griffiths (50') McGregor (82')
Clinical second half sees Hoops continue unbeaten run in Maryhill
Partick Thistle vs Celtic
Friday 9th December 2016
Celtic barely had to move out of second gear on Friday night as they eased to what was ultimately a very comfortable and deserved win against Partick Thistle. The game allowed Stuart Armstrong to continue his scintillating form with a decisive double, Leigh Griffiths scored on his return to the starting XI, while Callum McGregor also found himself on the score sheet for the second domestic game running.
Despite the slightly emphatic scoreline, Partick Thistle do deserve some credit for their showing within the opening stages of the game. They restricted the champions to very few efforts and appeared to be following up on the example shown by Motherwell last week, with a high press and aggressive style early on. However, unsurprisingly, it wasn't to last and within 15 minutes or so Celtic were firmly in the driving seat and spraying the ball about with ease, as they are now so accustomed to doing. Due to a few key changes within the starting XI, Celtic's early rustiness in certain areas was to be expected. Leigh Griffiths found himself starting for the first time in nearly a month and recent stalwart Jozo Simunovic was also dropped out of the backline, with Lustig moving in one position and Costa Rican Gamboa taking his right back berth. Gary Mackay-Steven also made his first start of the season as he aims to recover from various injury problems.
The aforementioned Griffiths was soon quick to dispel any thoughts of rustiness on his part however, as he brilliantly set up the opener for Stuart Armstrong on the 39th minute. After some neat build up, the 40-goal man from last season burst down the left hand side of the box before firing a low ball straight across the face of the goal mouth. It took the entirety of the Thistle backline out of the game in the blink of an eye and in the process allowed the energetic Armstrong to pop into the centre and tap the ball home. The goal came at a perfect time and it now ensured Alan Archibald's men would have to come out of defensive mode in the second period if they were to have any hope of securing points from the match.
Before they could even begin to attempt any sort of fight back in the second half however, Armstrong had struck again. After a quickly taken Leigh Griffiths free kick on the far right of the box, Armstrong found himself with space to run into and attempted a shot on goal. He opened up onto his weaker left foot and fired off what looked like a routine enough shot for Thistle keeper Cerny to deal with. The Czech stopper completely mistimed his dive however and the ball ended up going right through him. Armstrong looked as surprised as anyone however he wasn't caring one bit as he and his side had now firmly stamped their authority all over the match. By this stage Celtic were not letting up and you could see all eleven men in green and white hoops begin to smell blood and one minute later it was Griffiths' turn to get on the scoresheet. After a brilliant interception by the steady Gamboa, the ball found its way to Griffiths who was able to bamboozle Thistle centre half Barton and bring the ball onto his left foot within the right hand side of the box. At this point everyone knew what the outcome was going to be as the striker's deadly goalscoring instincts kicked in and his beautifully placed shot curled into the far corner. The Jags had gone from comfortably holding their own against Rodgers' men to completely collapsing in 11 minutes between the end of the 1st half and beginning of the 2nd. With Celtic in this sort of form no-one in Scotland is safe.
I'm still here: Griffiths celebrates his goal and reminds Rodgers what he can do
The question now was simple. How many more did Celtic want to score? With the Thistle defence in disarray and the players looking severely shell shocked, it seemed as though it was going to be a long 40 odd minutes to endure for Archibald's men. However, they battled back, and on 61 minutes managed to steal a slight glimmer of hope through a brilliant Liam Lindsay header at the back post from an in swinging free kick. The goal was the one minor blip on this Celtic performance and raised a few question marks over the defence, with poor marking in abundance. These question marks were raised once again soon after as Thistle were denied a second due to the linesman's offside flag following another good delivery. The decision was the right one in the end however it gave both the Hoops players and support a slight scare.
The home side then had another moment of drama as substitute forward Ade Azeez raced through on goal and was adjudged to have dived by referee Craig Thomson after the Englishman had nipped the ball past the onrushing Craig Gordon and 'collided' with the big stopper's leg. The replays shown were inconclusive however it seemed as though the Celtic number 1 had just managed to withdraw his leg at the last second, luckily for him.
It mattered little in the end as Rodgers and his men were soon celebrating a fourth and final goal on 82 minutes, thanks to substitute Callum McGregor. It was arguably a contender for goal of the night as a lovely flowing move ended with an Emilio Izaguirre cut back to the onrushing McGregor, who side footed home clinically from the penalty spot. Celtic went on to see out the game in relative comfort and walked away from this Glasgow derby with another 3 points to go hand in hand with another comfortable performance. With three home games to come in the month of December, including the re-arranged fixture against Hamilton, the Celts have the chance to really build up an even more daunting lead at the top of the table. Talk of an 'invincible' domestic season may be premature for now, however it is difficult to invisage this side in current form coming unstuck against anyone in the Premiership. The thought of Rodgers' bhoys having £36m in the bank and a January transfer window on the horizon won't give much encouragement to the chasing pack either.