3 vs 4
Moult (3', 35') Ainsworth (71') McGregor (48') Roberts (70') Armstrong (72') Rogic (90')
Celts stretch lead at the top to 11 points thanks to a resurgent second half in Motherwell
Saturday 3rd December 2016
Mark McGhee's Motherwell side will be left wondering where it all went wrong this afternoon as a whirlwind second half saw Celtic take all 3 points in what could yet turn out to be the game of the season. After taking a well deserved two goal lead into half time, it looked as though Brendan Rodgers was all set to taste defeat for the first time domestically as Celtic manager. However, whatever he said during the interval worked as his players scored an incredible four goals in the second half to show that they not only have the quality but the character to retain their unbeaten run for a while yet.
Following the league cup win last weekend and talk of an 'invincible' season, Celtic's players appeared to have let it go to their heads slightly in the first half. Their performance was flat and filled with slow build up which allowed Motherwell to get up the park and force mistakes from a side supposedly bang in form. The absence of Erik Sviatchenko was spoken about prior to the match and three minutes in, a gaping hole was carved through the exact spot where he would have been. Kolo Toure, returning to the starting XI after a six week absence, was caught napping as a lovely floated ball from Stephen McManus was played into the space behind him for Louis Moult to exploit. The English striker still had a lot to do with Craig Gordon preparing to face him but handled the situation superbly with a delightful first time lob over the Scotland keeper. After not conceding a goal for over 10 hours domestically, this opener came as a surprise to the Champions. There was no need to panic though, not yet, at least.
Deft touch: Moult lobs Gordon 3 minutes in
Motherwell continued to build on that opener and did not allow the Celtic players time to breathe in what was a physical and frenetic first half. Keith Lasley, no stranger to the physical side of the game shall we say, was at the forefront, constantly pressing the Celtic midfield and slowing their rhythm. Chances were hard to come by for the Hoops and in actual fact, they failed to find a shot on target in the entire first half. Things were soon to get worse as well, as just after the half hour mark, Moult doubled both his and Motherwell's tally. After Mikael Lustig was robbed of the ball on the far side of the park by Ross McLean, the young winger whipped a terrific ball into the back post for Moult to tap in past Gordon once again. Despite the brilliant ball and finish, there was a bit of controversy surrounding the build up. Celtic right back Lustig felt that McLean's challenge was unfair and following the ball hitting the back of the net, there were significant protests from the Celtic players. Their complaints fell on deaf ears however as referee Kevin Clancy waved on. Now came the real test of this Celtic sides character.
As the second half began, it was immediately evident that the Celtic players had been given a touch of the 'hairdryer treatment' by Brendan Rodgers in the away dressing room. Their play was faster and more intense from the off and on 48 minutes, in what was their first shot on target, they were back in the game. The goal came courtesy of Callum McGregor who had earlier replaced Emilio Izaguirre in the first half as Rodgers changed formation to one that resembled a 3-4-3. With Motherwell players camped on the edge of their box, McGregor showed great feet and composure as he skipped by two players and slotted the ball into the bottom corner of Samson's net. The away support were now firmly behind the players and you could almost sense the goals were about to flow in favour of the Celts.
Back in it: McGregor powers the ball home to make it 2-1
It is amazing how quickly football can change at times. In the first half the Hoops were hopeless and looked to be suffering from a week long hangover following their trophy celebrations last weekend. Following that goal however, they were set up in the Motherwell half for the following 20 minutes, constantly pushing and probing, until, at last, the equaliser came. Stuart Armstrong, who was sublime all afternoon and a worthy MOTM, was at the heart of the build up as he drove down the left wing and clipped a delightful ball to the back post. It bypassed numerous Celtic players in the six yard box until it finally reached one of the smallest players on the park, Patrick Roberts, who uncharacteristically headed home. The game had been completely flipped on its head and at this point it looked as though Celtic would go on and comfortably win by 2 or 3. Motherwell had other ideas, however.
The Celtic fans barely had time to compose themselves before Motherwell super sub Lionel Ainsworth had put the steelmen back in the lead. The Hoops defence was left wanting once again in the build up as Simunovic and Toure were both drawn to the front post, allowing Ainsworth to sneak in at the back and side foot the ball past Gordon. As if that wasn't incredible enough, another goal followed a matter of seconds later. Straight after kicking off, Patrick Roberts made his way inside the pitch and played a ball in behind the Motherwell midfield to find the iron lunged Armstrong, who somehow managed to slot the ball past Samson to make it 3-3. This was an incredible spell in the game which saw three goals come in the space of three minutes. At this point it seemed impossible to call.
There is a reason Celtic are Champions however and throughout the club's history, they have been famed for never giving up until the final whistle. Their quality was to shine through in the end as a sensational winner was struck bang on the 90th minute. It came from the weaker right foot of Aussie Tom Rogic, who usually struggles to even see that stage of the game. It was struck just as it seemed Motherwell were settling for the point, it was all hands to the pump at the back for McGhee's men but the majestic Rogic still managed to find space to shift it onto his right foot and bend it home from 20 yards. It was another huge goal from the Australian international, following on from his stunner last week against Aberdeen in the League Cup final. He seems incapable of scoring simple goals.
Wizard of Oz: Rogic bends it home to send the Celtic fans into raptures
No-one watching from home or inside the stadium would have been surprised if there was another goal to come in the game. However, Celtic managed to see out the remaining four minutes of injury time in order to ensure a hard fought victory and in turn maintained their stranglehold at the top of the league table. Despite a rousing second half showing from the players, who deserve huge credit, you cannot help but feel that this win was largely down to the quick thinking and genius of a certain Northern Irishman. Brendan Rodgers has shown on numerous occasions this season that he has the ability to influence a game from the dugout using both his tactical nous and players he has in reserve. Today was another example of that.
From the introduction of Callum McGregor just 20 or so minutes in, to the switch in formation to an attacking and bold 3-4-3, the Celtic manager more than proved his worth this afternoon and showed why Dermot Desmond viewed him as the only man for the job last summer. Had this game taken place last season, there is absolutely no doubt that Celtic would be going home to the East End of Glasgow with their tails between their legs. Instead, they go home jubilant with another 3 points in the bag and an 11 point lead over their nearest rivals, incredibly with two games in hand. The Rodgers revolution continues on.