How ballsy is Scott Sinclair? Arriving as a 73rd minute substitute, his every touch was booed by Motherwell fans. Dozens of missiles were thrown at him (and other Celtic players) as nearby stewards failed even to look in the direction of the culprits.
Then with three minutes remaining and Celtic a goal down, he told Leigh Griffiths to step away from the penalty spot. The kick itself – high into the top corner, was unstoppable, but goodness, not without risk.
With so much negative focus on him, taking that penalty was the equivalent of looking the Devil in the eye. He will be stronger for the experience.
Now others are left asking, “What will it take to beat Celtic, even once?” Legs and minds are tired among the squad, you can see it. Leigh, normally so sharp, was ponderous when his best chance occurred. Craig Gordon looks like he needs a holiday. That punch, the clearance which cleared no one and those kick outs! What’s going on, Craig?
There was a fascinating moment involving Tom Rogic when we were a goal down. A loose ball was there to be challenged for, but Tom didn’t quite throw himself at it, prompting clear feedback from the travelling fans. What he did was take control of proceedings from then on.
His defence-splitting pass for Callum McGregor led to the penalty and gave us our kicks, on game 66.
The penalty itself followed a goalkeeping error. Carson saved a gilt-edged chance from McGregor, but instead of knocking the ball out for a corner, he kept it alive with a side-swipe. McGregor put his body between ball and defender. Then waited.
The not too subtle message from Motherwell after Sunday’s cup final is that they were incorrectly punished for putting arms around an opponent in the box. On an intellectual level, they knew they were banged to right (or they would have appealed the red card), but the emotional part of the brain took over.
“It’s OK to put your arms around an opponent to inhibit his progress inside the box” was the subliminal message. Just think, if Stephen Robinson had told his players not to take such actions after the final, Rose might have kept his arms to himself last night.
Every referee in the country knew Craig Thomson was hung out to dry on Sunday after making a correct penalty decision. Willie Collum would have prepared for last night’s game clear in the knowledge that no amount of wining would prevent him making an unpopular decision.
Would he have made the same penalty decision if Motherwell and the assembled media did not round on Craig Thomson a few days earlier? Perhaps. But it is never wise to harden the resolve of a referee.
Oh, and yes, that was our first penalty of the league campaign, no one else in the division was penalty-less until last night.
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