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NTCHAM’S WHIZZBANG EFFORT SETTLES IT

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PARTICK TH 0 CELTIC 1

BRENDAN RODGERS celebrated another domestic victory and his 50th successive game without defeat at Firhill tonight.

A whizzbang effort from Olivier Ntcham gave Celtic the win and the points, but this was far too uncomfortable for the Hoops manager and the fans as Thistle made the second-half extremely difficult.

The Hoops lost their momentum after the interval and not even the introduction of Leigh Griffiths and Tom Rogic just after the hour mark could add a verve and vigour to the performance.

In fact, Thistle were howling for a penalty-kick in stoppage time when Nir Bitton tangled with Miles Storey when he really should have left Craig Gordon to clear the danger.

The Jags substitute went down just a shade too theatrically and referee Andrew Dallas waved away their vain appeals.

But it was an unnecessary lapse of concentration by the Israeli midfielder who was again fitting in at centre-back alongside Jozo Simunovic.

Rodgers, with an eye to next week’s Champions League play-off crunch against Astana in mind, left Griffiths on the bench with James Forrest leading the attack.

The Hoops, as expected, dominated the first-half with the home side filtering deep into defence to deny them space.

Christie Elliott was practically inside the same jersey as Scotty Sinclair, but the Englishman was bright enough to drag him inside to allow the ever-willing and eager Kieran Tierney to thunder down the left wing.

The 20-year-old extra attacker was making life extremely difficult for Steve Lawless as he took him on and beat him for pace time and time again.

There was no argument the champions were well worthy of their one-goal advantage at the interval.

Keeper Tomas Cerny made a high-flying save at his top-left hand corner to paw away a mencing 25-yard free-kick from Bitton in the 25th minute.

However, the goal was only delayed a matter of seconds. Sinclair curled a right-wing corner-kick into the danger zone with Jordan Turnbull rising highest to head the ball to the edge of the penalty area.

Ntcham was loitering with intent about 20 yards out and the impressive Frenchman struck the ball sweetly with his right foot.

It took a slight nick off Scott Brown as it swept past the bamboozled Cerny, but there was no doubt who was claiming the goal as the £4.5million summer signing was acclaimed by team-mates and supporters alike.

Celtic might have taken the lead in the ninth minute when Sinclair raced onto a Tierney pass to set up James Forrest.

The makeshift striker swivelled and shot low towards the corner, but Cerny did well to get a hand to the ball and Adam Barton hacked the rebound to safety.

In the 35th minute, Brown sent a spinning header from 12 yards just over the crossbar with the Jags goalie scrambling across his line.

Six minutes after the break, Tierney came so close to doubling the visitors’ advantage when he drove forward and unleashed a low drive at goal.

Cerny was helpless, but, unfortunately, the ball zipped a few inches wide of the far upright.

Two minutes later, Celtic got a real scare as Bitton clocked off when Christie delivered an excellent cross from the right.

Kris Doolan was allowed to run round the back of the emergency stopper and connect with his head only six yards out. Amazingly, he sent his effort just over the crossbar with Gordon rooted to his line.

It was a let-off and the Celtic fans in the 8,041 crowd were quick to recognise it as they stepped up their vocal encouragement for their favourites.

Jonny Hayes and Callum McGregor, who had struggled from the start to make an impact, were withdrawn in the 61st minute with Griffiths and Rogic taking their places while Stuart Armstrong replaced Ntcham in the 73rd minute.

The nearest Celtic got to putting the game to bed came in the 70th minute when Griffiths looped in a left-wing corner-kick.

Simunovic’s timing was superb as he rose to bullet in a header, but Callum Booth got back on the line to clear with his keeper looking on.

With eight minutes to go, Brown had the ball in the Jags net, but Dallas had blown just moments earlier for a handball which looked a little harsh.

This was not pretty and it wasn’t easy on the eye, but it’s another victory and the Hoops can now look forward to get things organised before the visit of Astana in midweek.

TEAM: Gordon; Lustig, Bitton, Simunovic, Tierney; Brown, Ntcham (sub: Armstrong 73); Hayes (sub: Griffiths 61), McGregor (sub: Rogic 61), Sinclair; Forrest.

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