CELTIC 2 MOTHERWELL 0
UNBEATABLE Celtic claimed their TWENTIETH successive Premier League victory with Moussa Dembele and James Forrest putting Motherwell to the sword at Parkhead this afternoon.
The latest triumph also stretched the Hoops’ undefeated domestic record to a remarkable 31 outings, with all but one of them ending in triumph. They are now again 27 points ahead of Aberdeen.
Two goals in eight first-half minutes transformed this encounter after the Brednan Rodgers’ team were strangely subdued and even sluggish in the opening 20 minutes.
Well keeper Craig Samson, who was invited to retrieve the ball from his net seven times against Aberdeen at Pittodrie in midweek, was virtually untested in the opening moments.
Mark McGhee had his ultra-cautious team well drilled from the off and they were determined not to be decimated by their opponents.
In the 24th minute, though, there was a flash of danger as the Hoops upped the tempo.
Forrest fired in an effort that caused a fair bit of consternation for Samson with a blast at goal. He pushed the ball into the air and it dropped invitingly for Liam Henderson.
The home fans were poised to acclaim the breakthrough strike, but the midfielder rushed his effort and hit a half-volley wide of the target. The Well defence heaved a colective sigh of relief.
But all the hard work by the visitors was undone in the 33rd minute when on-loan Reading defender Zak Jules, an early substitute for the injured Stephen McManus, gave away a needless penalty-kick.
He hacked down Demble from behind and there could only be one outcome – referee Don Robertson immediately awarded a spot-kick.
The prolific marksman was calmness personified as he dusted himself down before striking a right-foot drive beyond the keeper who took off in the wrong direction.
It was the French Under-21 international’s 27th goal of the campaign and how the fans celebrated this latest effort.
Eight minutes later, Samson was beaten again when Forrest finished off a move that was started with a sweeping ball forward from Mikael Lustig.
Dembele turned provider on this occasion to pick out the winger, who set up four of Celtic’s six goals in last week’s mauling of Inverness Caley Thistle in the Scottish Cup.
Forrest jinked one way and then another, completely flummoxing ex-Hoops youngster Joe Chalmers in the process.
As soon as a gap appeared, the Scotland international drilled a shot across the helpless shotstopper low into the corner of the net for Celtic’s second and his seventh of the campaign.
In between the goals, another former Hoops star, Stephen Pearson, gave Craig Gordon a scare when he had an opportunity, but his 14-yard effort was too close to the keeper and the menace was instantly repelled by the alert No.1.
Stuart Armstrong replaced Henderson at the start of the second-half to make a welcome return after injury.
Minutes into the second period, Nir Bitton tested Samson with a trademark long-range shot with the ball dipping and swerving.
The Well keeper did well to deal with the threat and knock it away for a corner-kick.
Dembele was next up after Scott Sinclair danced his way in from the wing to bend in a cross with the outside of his boot.
The French ace didn’t quite get his angles right and his attempt was off target.
In the 69th minute, Sinclair proved he was human after all when he missed after being set up by Forrest.
The flamboyant attacker received the pass at the back post, but couldn’t quite get over the ball and his finishing effort flew harmlessly and wildly over the bar.
Scott Brown then surged forward from the midfield and thundered in a vicious right-foot drive that hurtled about a foot over the bar with Samson helpless.
Bitton, who had stood out like a beacon all afternoon with his new blond hairstyle, was taken off near the end with Callum McGregor getting the opportunity to stretch his legs.
It wasn’t the best performance of Rodgers’ team, but they did enough to claim another three points against a Fir Park side who, to be fair, put a lot of energy into their display, obviously still hurting from their capitulation against the Dons on Wednesday.
TEAM: Gordon; Lustig, Boyata, Simunovic, Tierney; Brown, Bitton (sub: McGregor 83); Forrest, Henderson (sub: Armstrong 46), Sinclair; Dembele.