CELTIC 1 MOTHERWELL 1
CARELESS Celtic threw away two precious points in a frustrating stalemate against Motherwell at Parkhead this afternoon.
The champions blew the opportunity of going 11 points clear at the Premiership pinnacle following an exasperating performance.
The Hoops dominated, but just could not convert their vast superiority into a victory. They made enough chances to win several games, but the firing squad were shooting blanks.
Luis Palma missed a penalty-kick, David Turnbull netted a second award – and then the hosts allowed the Fir Park side to sneak a point after some dreadful defending at a left-wing corner-kick in the 90th minute.
The nearest to a breakthrough goal came in the eighth minute when Palma switched play in from the left to pick out Greg Taylor. The defender knocked the ball in front of Matt O’Riley whose quickfire shot was pushed away by Liam Kelly at his right-hand post.
Even this early in proceedings, Yang Hyun-jun on the right and Palma on the opposite wing looked in the mood as they drove at the Well rearguard.
Callum Slattery was the first name in referee Steven McLean’s book after a wayward challenge on Taylor that floored the left-back.
ON THE RUN…Yang Hyun-jun looked in the mood against Motherwell.
In the 21st minute, an amazing reflex save from Kelly denied the Hoops. The netminder reacted in an instant to claw away a deflection from his own defender Stephen O’Donnell who stretched at his near post to get his lead to a left-wing corner-kick from Palma.
His attempt at a clearance was zipping towards the back of the net until the keeper pushed it to safety.
The champions had racked up six corner-kicks in the opening 25 minutes as they continued the pursuit of the opener. After half-an-hour, the hosts had 80 percent of the possession in a one-sided confrontation.
It was wave after wave of green-and-white shirts surging towards Kelly, but that crucial killer touch was missing as the visitors stacked up the bodies in front of their goalkeeper.
However, there was some confusion in the Celtic rearguard in the 35th minute when Joe Hart was lured from his line. Cameron Carter-Vickers came to the team’s rescue with a clearance from an O’Donnell attempt before Dan Casey fired over the bar from just outside the box.
It was just a reminder that while the game was locked in stalemate there was a danger when Well did make a rare intrusion into enemy territory.
PLENTY TO PONDER…Brendan Rodgers watches from the touchline.
Three minutes later, there was a second wake-up call for the hosts when Hart had to somersault to his right to beat away a ferocious drive from Harry Paton from 25 yards.
O’Donnell was next to see a yellow card following persistent time-wasting from the visitors in their efforts to frustrate the title kings.
After the interval, Brendan Rodgers replaced Odin Holm, who had been rarely seen in the first-half, with striker Oh Hyeon-gyu as the manager restructured his system.
The game was held up for six minutes following a clash of heads between Liam Scales and Mikah Biereth. Thankfully, both players responded to treatment and were able to play on.
In 62 minutes, Kelly appeared to handle the ball outside the box, but ref McLean and his assistant ignored pleas for a free-kick.
Moments later, Taylor whipped in a left-wing cross, but Oh was off target with a close-range header.
The Hoops blew the opportunity to take the lead in the 66th minute when Palma squandered a penalty-kick.
The spot-kick was awarded after a swift break from the hosts with Kyogo and Palma involved before Bevis Mugabi was booked for upending Oh just when it looked as though the South Korean was about to hit the barrier-breaking strike.
Palma, who netted one against Aberdeen a fortnight ago, went through his staccato run-up, but on this occasion Kelly denied the Honduran as he dived to his right to push his effort to safety.
Rodgers’ response was immediate as he withdrew Kyogo and Palma and put on Turnbull and Mikey Johnston.
Taylor was next in the book after a foul on Blair Spittal. The yellow card and the inevitable delay to take the free-kick just added to the frustration of the home side and the fans.
CHEERS…David Turnbull celebrates after another Celtic goal.
In the 80th minute, Yang came within inches of the goal Celtic so desperately required when he headed wide from eight yards after a superb cross from Johnston on the left. Kelly was rooted to the spot, but the ball whipped wide of the upright.
Oh was next to miss when he made a mess of a splendid right-wing cross from Ralston.
But the breakthrough was merely delayed until the 86th minute when another penalty-kick was awarded after Callum Butcher hauled back Johnston at the far post.
The onfield match official waved play on, but was instructed by VAR to review the incident and McLean checked the touchline monitor before coming back onto the pitch to point to the spot.
Turnbull, who missed a pen against St Mirren, was elected to take this award and the midfielder made no mistake on this occasion with a calm drive low to the keeper’s left with Kelly outfoxed on this occasion.
But Parkhead was silenced in the 90th minute when Well levelled following a left-wing corner-kick from Spittal.
Hart and his defenders were caught on their heels as the ball dropped into the danger zone and was deflected into the net by Jonathan Obika from close range.
Marco Tilio came on in the fourth minute of stoppage-time as Yang limped off.
However, the Aussie debutant could not provide a happy ending to a fairly dismal display from the home side.
The focus now turns to Rome on Tuesday evening when the Hoops take on Lazio in the Champions League.
It’s back to the drawing board for the manager to provide some much-needed answers.
TEAM: Hart; Ralston, Carter-Vickers, Scales, Taylor; Holm (sub: Oh 46), McGregor, O’Riley; Yang (sub: Tilio 94), Kyogo (sub: Turnbull 67), Palma (sub: M Johnston 67).