By Jack the Lad
Celtic sailed back to the top of the Scottish Premiership after a routine 1-0 win over Motherwell at Fir Park.
Nadir Ciftci’s early strike after 13 minutes was just enough to see the Bhoys home with the three points, as it appeared Mark McGhee’s men had an extra man on the park in ‘referee’ Alan Muir.
A string of injuries from last week’s internationals forced Deila to ring the changes. Griffiths, struggling for fitness, was benched in place of Ciftci, while James Forrest and Mikael Lustig were replaced by Efe Ambrose and Stuart Armstrong.
Buoyed by the latest Ross County sized dent in Aberdeen’s miserable title bid, the Hoops started the game brightly.
Ciftci, making his first league start for the club, had his drilled shot from the edge of the box deflected narrowly wide. The resulting corner from Commons found its way to Tyler Blackett, who was unable to convert his free header from six yards out.
Stuart Armstrong, making his first start since returning from injury, looked lively on the left hand side. The midfielder cut inside after a mazy run, but his fierce shot could only find its way into the side netting.
Within five minutes of Armstrong’s attempt, Celtic took the lead. A neat bit of interplay between Armstrong and Izaguirre, who had the beating of the Motherwell right back the whole half, led to the Honduran delivering a dangerous whipped cross. The ball found itself at the feet of Commons, whose weak strike was parried into the path of Ciftci, who cooly slotted the ball into the bottom right hand corner to give the Champions the lead.
Deila’s men continued to dominate possession, with Motherwell more than content to park the bus. In truth, you’d be forgiven for thinking they were down to 10 men such was the negativity of their play. Celtic, however, were undeterred.
Commons came close with a fizzing effort from 30 yards out, but Ripley in the Motherwell goal made a smart save to push the ball over the bar for a corner.
Tom Rogic arguably should have made it two on the half hour mark. A lovely exchange between Nir Bitton and Rogic made space for the Australian inside the box, but he fluffed his lines and skied the ball into a rather barren stand.
A few minutes later Motherwell were saved by the bar. Commons’ delicious free kick from the edge of the area sailed over the wall and was desperately unlucky to find the wrong side of woodwork, leaving the Steelmen feeling rather fortunate to go in only one behind at half time.
Apart from Ciftci’s goal, it was a similar first half to the Hearts game a few weeks ago; total Celtic domination but a failure to put the ball in the back of the net. Most in the away end were just hopeful it wouldn’t come back to bite us.
I’m usually a big fan of the famous Jock Stein quote about referees; ‘If you’re good enough, the referee doesn’t matter.’ However, if we hadn’t won today, the only person to blame would’ve been Alan Muir.
The first incident in the second half involved Muir, who infamously failed to see the Inverness handball in last season’s Scottish Cup semi final, despite being positioned an enormous 2 yards away behind the goal. Scott Brown was hauled down in the box in the Motherwell penalty box, but as the Scotland captain is guilty of the horrendous crime of wearing green and white hoops, Muir decided that the Motherwell defender hacking Brown down was in fact an optical illusion.
Nigerian lothario Efe Ambrose decided to protest by attempting to volley the ball into his own net a minute later, but his fierce strike flew narrowly over the bar for a Motherwell corner. Unlucky big man.
Kris Commons should have given Celtic a comfortable lead in the 57th minute, but his sliced shot from 10 yards out swerved agonisingly past the post.
It’s difficult to describe what happened next. It’s probably something that belongs in fantasy fiction novel, a shit one at that, but the great wordsmiths of the last thousand years would struggle to explain the incompetence of Alan Muir.
Commons found himself in acres of space in the Motherwell box, but seen Ciftci in a better position and attempted to square the ball. As Ciftci readied himself to slot the ball home, the ball was deliberately blocked by the outstretched arm of a Motherwell defender in almost identical circumstances to the Inverness semi final of last season.
Perhaps it should come as no surprise that Muir, who appeared temporarily blinded and incapable of seeing the incident in the semi final, would once again fail to see a stonewall penalty. Of course, he inconceivably waved play on. At least he’s consistent to be fair.
Invariably, Motherwell began to grow into the game as the Hoops struggled to cope with the bout of PTSD that made it’s away through the team as result of Muir’s antics. Still, Celtic looked comfortable in defence as the Steelmen lacked quality in the final third of the park.
It was Celtic who had the next big chance of the game in the 81st minute, as Boyata’s lovely through ball found Commons in the box, who could only stab the ball into the grateful arms of Ripley.
The game petered out with the only incident of note being a decent run and shot from the seldom seen Callum McGregor.
All in all, smiles all around as Deila’s men never left first gear to return to the top of the table. European football up next for Celtic in the shape of an away trip to Norway to face Molde. The Norwegian champions currently sit 7th in the table, 21 points behind Rosenborg in 1st, but are top of Group A. With an outstanding away win in Turkey and a credible point at home against Ajax to date, expect a tough game on Thursday night.