CELTIC 1 MOTHERWELL 1
ALAS, you can’t win them all.
Celtic shed their first points at Parkhead this season in a frustrating stalemate with Motherwell this afternoon.
Callum McGregor played a captain’s part by giving the champions the half-time advantage, but the defence slept to allow the visitors to equalise and the Hoops just couldn’t regain the lead.
Ange Postecoglou’s men are now 13 points ahead with five games to go and it’s only a matter of time before the flag is flying in the east end of Glasgow for the second successive season.
The Hoops dropped only their seventh point of the campaign and we all know they can do so much better, so if any team deserves to be cut some slack it is this one.
CAPTAIN’S ROLE…Callum McGregor celebrates a rare strike for Celtic.
Early on, McGregor had Liam Kelly scrambling across his line after whipping in an ambitious long-range left-wing effort that swept just over the crossbar in the sixth minute.
In the 19th minute, Tomoki Iwata picked out Alistair Johnston on the right and his wicked ball into the box eliminated the diving keeper, but Daizen Maeda was just out at the back post as he lunged at the cross.
The Japanese speedster clattered into the woodwork, but, thankfully, recovered.
Maeda had been presented with a chance earlier when Johnston picked him out coming in at the back post, but the pacy raider appeared to lose his bearings and his header was scooped round the right-hand post by Kelly.
The breakthrough strike was delayed until the 25th minute when McGregor displayed enterprise by firing in a drive from well outside the box.
The busy Iwata set it up for the captain who left fly with his left foot. It took a slight nick off Callum Butcher on its way past the sprawling Kelly low to his left.
Ten minutes later, Sead Haksabanovic took a sore one after a collision with James Furlong. Referee John Beaton deemed it accidental and took no action.
The Montenegro international showed he had made a complete recovery with a stinging shot just before the interval that brought out an alert save from the Fir Park No.1.
PUZZLED…Kyogo Furuhashi is still waiting for his 50th goal for Celtic after firing blanks against Motherwell.
Four minutes after the turnaround, Kyogo, in typical fashion, swivelled to get a sight of goal and his low drive zipped just wide of Kelly’s left-hand post.
The Hoops were stunned in the 55th minute when Kevin van Veen equalised after the Lanarkshire club’s top scorer was allowed to run onto a Callum Slattery through pass before slipping the ball wide of the exposed Joe Hart.
The Dutch hitman bamboozled Greg Taylor as he moved into the box and finished with a fine effort.
The champions retaliated and it took a wonder save from Kelly to deny Kyogo when it looked as though a second goal was on its way.
The prolific attacker latched onto a pass from Matt O’Riley and struck his effort high, but the netminder reacted swiftly to push the ball for a corner-kick.
Frustration was evident when Kyogo was then booked when he used a handball as a cross came in from the left.
FRUSTRATED…Matt O’Riley wonders how to break down the Well rearguard.
Postecoglou made the anticipated changes in the 64th minute when he took off Haksabanovic, who had struggled, and Iwata with Oh Hyeon-gyu and Aaron Mooy coming on.
The home fans were not enamoured by the obvious time-wasting of Kelly and could only hope the fourth official was adding on the time at the end of the regulation 90 minutes. In the end, seven extra minutes were played.
It was a strangely stuttering performance from the hosts who were not settling into their usual rhythm. Passes were going astray far too often as the visitors continued to work hard to deny them space in which to work.
O’Riley thought he had unlocked the rearguard with a neat cross, but Cameron Carter-Vickers’ close-range header was deflected for a corner-kick.
The Danish Under-21 international, who had put in an exhausting shift, was withdrawn shortly afterwards with teenager Rocco Vata being thrown in with Postecoglou again reshaping his line-up.
PLENTY TO THINK ABOUT…Ange Postecoglou ponders the situation on the touchline.
Carl Starfelt was next to be foiled when his header from a good free-kick delivery was grabbed from under the crossbar by Kelly.
Near the end, David Turnbull came on for Taylor and only moments later Oh missed a great opportunity when he didn’t make a telling connection with a header following an excellent cross from Vata.
The South Korean striker slumped to the ground in frustration and knew he should have done so much better.
It was the story of Celtic’s day.
Now all eyes are on Hampden a week tomorrow as the Hoops aim to overcome the next hurdle in their determined quest for a domestic clean sweep.
A Scottish Cup Final place on Saturday June 3 against either Falkirk or Inverness Caley Thistle awaits the winners of the fifth derby encounter of the season.
The treble is in sight for Ange and the Bhoys!
TEAM: Hart; Johnston, Carter-Vickers, Starfelt, Taylor (sub: Turnbull 87); Iwata (sub: Mooy 64), McGregor, O’Riley (sub: Vata 79); Haksabanovic (sub Oh 64), Kyogo, Maeda.