MOTHERWELL 1 CELTIC 2
CELTIC walked a shaky title tightrope at Fir Park this evening before emerging with three vital points following goals from Kyogo Furuhashi and Daizen Maeda.
It was a strangely nervy performance from the champions against a team that were up for the fight and gave it everything they had until the last shrill of Willie Collum’s whistle.
VAR was called in twice – to chalk off a Celtic goal and to grant one to Well. Both decisions were extremely tight and, alas, went against the Hoops.
It wasn’t pretty, but it was effective and the main thing was to win their 13th league game in 14 to remain at the league’s summit with a seven-point advantage.
READY, STEADY, KYOGO…the Japanese striker smashes home the opening goal after some great work by Matt O’Riley (extreme right).
The Hoops escaped in the third minute when Kevin van Veen hit the outside of Joe Hart’s left-hand post with an angled rive.
A slack ball forward from Carl Starfelt to Greg Taylor was intercepted by Stephen O’Donnell who swiftly released Well’s Dutch dangerman on the right.
Van Veen carried the ball wide of the exposed keeper, but, fortunately for the visitors, he smacked the woodwork with his finishing effort. Starfelt and his team-mates breathed a sigh of relief.
Normal service was resumed in the 15th minute when the champions claimed the breakthrough goal with a wonderful combination of skill and strength before it was tucked behind Liam Kelly by Kyogo.
Starfelt picked out Taylor on the left and he switched it inside to Filipe Jota who rolled it in front of Matt O’Riley.
It looked as though the opportunity had gone when midfielder lost possession, but he fought to win the ball back before whipping over a left-foot cross and the Japanese striker arrived with precision timing to thump in the opener from four yards.
PICK IT OUT…Kyogo Furuhashi races away in triumph after leaving Well keeper Liam Kelly and his defenders helpless after turning in a Matt O’Riley cross.
In the 34th minute, an excellent diagonal crossfield pass from Cameron Carter-Vickers was taken on the chest by Jota who then fired in a crisp low drive.
Kelly fumbled the effort and Kyogo was in quickly, but the Well defence and the keeper managed to smuggle the ball clear.
Liel Abada’s touch was out in the opening half and that was highlighted with a right-wing cross that sailed into the crowd when he had time and space to do so much better.
Abada got his angles right in the 41st minute to set Hatate clear, but the midfielder was robbed by O’Donnell with a superbly-timed slide-tackle just as he was about to pull the trigger.
The Hoops dominated play, but only had six shots at goal with two on target in the opening 45 minutes. That may have been a concern for Ange Postecoglou in the half-time chat.
HAIL THE HERO…Kyogo Furuhashi celebrates the breakthrough strike.
Well started determinedly at the start of the second priod, but the best chance fell in the 49th minute to Jota after being set up by Kyogo. However, the Portuguese winger’s shot was deflected for a corner-kick by Ricki Lamie.
Once again, the Hoops had the bulk of the possession, but there were not too many attacking options being offered by either Hatate or Aaron Mooy in the middle of the park and the tempo wasn’t at the team’s expected standard.
An extremely tight offside call denied Jota a second goal after some magical play from Kyogo in the 58th minute. The winger took the ball superbly, lured Kelly from his line and finished with an accomplished lob.
However, VAR showed it was offside by the merest of margins and there was no argument from the visitors.
Sead Haksabanovic was introduced for the out-of-sorts Abada on the hour mark as Postecoglou looked to add some pep to the proceedings.
THREE CHEERS…Kyogo Furuhashi is congratulated by Carl Starfelt and Matt O’Riley after his strike.
Nine minutes later, Giorgos Giakoumakis and David Turnbull replaced Kyogo and Hatate at a stage when Well were exerting a bit of pressure.
The champions’ passing was far too sloppy on too many occasions to be comfortable for the manager as he prowled the touchline.
Time after time passes were going astray and the momentum of attacking moves was being lost.
The Well defenders were snapping into challenges and anticipating passes from their opponents.
Giakoumakis sent one spiralling over the crossbar from six yards after superb left-wing service from Jota, but only a minute later Well came so close to equalising when Louis Moult got his head to a left-wing cross to leave Hart standing, but the ball edged just over the bar.
In the 80th minute, Jota and Mooy were withdrawn with Daizen Maeda and Oliver Abildgaard coming on in their place.
NO GOAL…Filipe Jota chips the ball over Liam Kelly for what looked like a perfectly good goal, but VAR thought otherwise.
Four minutes later, Mooy made a significant touch with the second goal after a magnificent sweeping pass from Turnbull.
The Japanese speedster raced onto the ball, took a touch with his left foot and then drilled his drive under the advancing Kelly.
In the 87th minute, Ross Tierney pulled one back with a volley that Hart got a touch to, but couldn’t prevent from going over the line. It was checked by VAR and was given although, once again, it was an extremely tight decision. Juranovic’s big toe seems to have made the difference.
THE WINNER… Daizen Maeda fires the ball home with Stephen O’Donnell too late to intervene.
Celtic out of luck with VAR decisions on two goals. An unfortunate pattern appears to be developing.
Five minutes of stoppage-time were added on, but the Hoops saw this one over the line.
It should never have been this anxious considering the amount of possession enjoyed by the visitors, but we’ll take the three points and move onto Saturday when Ross County visit before the World Cup break.
TEAM: Hart; Juranovic, Carter-Vickers, Starfelt, Taylor; Mooy (sub: Abildgaard 80), O’Riley, Hatate (sub: Turnbull 69); Abada (sub: Haksabanovic 60), Kyogo (sub: Giakoumakis 69), Jota (sub: Maeda 80).