Match Report: Partick Thistle 1 – 2 Celtic
NERVE-ENDS were jangling with six minutes to go as Celtic again walked the title tightrope against Partick Thistle at Firhill.
The game should have been well out of sight before the Maryhill side were thrown a lifeline by over-fussy referee Stephen Finnie when he awarded a late penalty-kick.
Erik Sviatchenko challenged awkwardly as Steven Lawless skipped past him far too easily on the right bye-line. The attacker still got in his cross which was cleared, but the match official obviously decreed that the merest of touches from the defender warranted a spot-kick. Apparently, there is no such award these days as an indirect free-kick in the box.
It was a gift from the Danish defender and Sean Walsh sent Craig Gordon the wrong way to set up an anxious ending to the Glasgow derby.
In truth, the champions should have been coasting to victory long before the penalty-kick was given.
There was some poor finishing – notably one from Nir Biton when he was far too nonchalant in a one-on-one situation – and that gave the Maryhill side the opportunity to regroup and attempt to get back into the contest.
It took Celtic until a minute from half-time to get the breakthrough goal – and it was well worth the wait.
The ever-impressive Keiran Tierney forced a throw-in deep in Thistle’s territory on the left. He combined with Callum McGregor, displaying intelligence and a good work ethic throughout, and he touched a nice pass into the tracks of the tricky Gary Mackay-Steven.
He moved nicely into a pocket of space and delivered an excellent cross into the box. Danny Seaborne’s timing was off as he tried to head clear and Leigh Griffiths read the situation perfectly.
He stunned the ball with one foot, steadied himself and, with the utmost confidence, fired a left-foot drive low past Tomas Cerny. The keeper did well to get a hand to the ball, but he was never going to stop it entering the net such was the precision and the venom of the effort.
Griffiths, as he so richly deserved, took a bow in front of the celebrating visiting fans after notching his 35th goal of a prolific season.
Before that goal, he might have got on the scoresheet in the eighth minute when McGregor picked him out with a cute cross from the right. The frontman threw himself full-length to power in a header, but Cerny dived to his left to push the ball to safety.
The champions looked in control without overly-worrying the Jags back lot and Craig Gordon was reminded it wouldn’t be all one-way traffic when Liam Lindsay belted in a 25-yarder which the keeper acrobatically fisted to safety in the 18th minute.
Five minutes later, Kris Commons had half-a-chance as the ball was worked to him through Mikael Lustig and Griffiths. However, he lost his footing on the edge of the box and skied his shot over the bar.
Just before the half-hour mark, Gordon was brought into action once again. Kris Doolan, coming in from the left, nutmegged Charlie Mulgrew to set up a chance smack in front of goal. The Thistle player tried to toe-poke an effort wide of the keeper who kept his concentration to pull off a smart save.
In the 40th minute, the Hoops were within inches of the opener when Biton attempted what is becoming a trademark strike at goal. Almost lazily, he struck a right-foot shot from 30 yards that dipped and swerved to leave Cerny helpless. Unfortunately, the ball swept just wide of the upright.
Then came the all-important barrier-breaking goal from Griffiths and Celtic could breathe a bit more easily at the interval.
It got even better nine minutes after the turnaround when Callum McGregor doubled the advantage with a superb run and finish. As he did against Morton last week, the comeback midfielder showed a lot of composure in his finishing effort.
Mackay-Steven sent him scampering through on the right. He drew a challenge from Seaborne and touched the ball to his right before zipping a low drive across the keeper and in at the far post.
At that stage, it looked as though Ronny Deila could open the cigars and pass them around – three points looked a certainty.
Colin Kazim-Richards came on for the tiring Commons in the 67th minute and the former Feyenoord player contrived to pass up a wonderful opportunity for the third goal that would surely have killed the game.
McGregor set up Griffiths who had a shot blocked by the sprawling Cerny. The ball broke to Kazim-Richards who struck a woeful shot well wide of the target.
Griffiths and Biton then had opportunities before Thistle were awarded their spot-kick to ensure an anxious few minutes at Firhill.
At the end, though, Celtic celebrated their NINETEENTH successive league win over the Jags to remain in pole position with only nine games still to play.
But there was no need for the fraught ending in this Glasgow derby.
TEAM: Gordon; Lustig, Sviatchenko, Mulgrew, Tierney; Brown, Biton; McGregor, Commons (sub: Kazim-Richards 67), Mackay-Steven (sub: Ambrose 92); Griffiths (sub: Armstrong 88).