MOTHERWELL 1 CELTIC 2
MATT O’RILEY celebrated his new contract with a sensational winning goal at Fir Park.
The encounter had ebbed and flowed in the fading moments when it looked as though Luis Palma had struck to give the champions a crucial victory with three minutes to go.
Remarkably, Well levelled in the fifth minute of stoppage time through Blair Spittal and it seemed certain the Hoops had surrendered two precious points.
But, right at the death, Greg Taylor swung a superb diagonal pass into the box and O’Riley’s timing was impeccable as he arrived at the far post to sidefoot the points-clincher beyond the shocked Liam Kelly.
WELL DONE…Callum McGregor shouts for joy after Luis Palma’s late goal – but there was a lot more drama to come for the Celtic captain and his team-mates.
It was an incredible climax to a confrontation that see-sawed in crazy fashion before referee Willie Collum finally blew nine minutes into added-on time.
When the smoke of battle cleared, the points were heading home for Parkhead. But, oh, what a fright Celtic got on this occasion.
But, once again, the players must be applauded for their never-say-die spirit that saw them battle to the last shrill of the match official’s whistle.
Manager Brendan Rodgers can take a bow, too, with some timely and astute substitutions to help propel his team on the way to a fairly spectacular triumph.
There was a scare for the visitors in the tenth minute when Reo Hatate went down after getting a kick in the face from Callum Slattery who was booked by ref Collum for the wayward challenge.
The Japanese midfielder was given extensive treatment on the pitch with the game held up for about four minutes.
Hatate went off to get patched up and returned with wounds to his eye and nose quite visible.
FLAT OUT…Reo Hatate gets treatment from the Celtic medics after sustaining a facial injury.
In the 16th minute, Yang Hyun-jun jinked in from the right to fire a left-foot drive at goal from 25 yards, but unfortunately his effort flew high and wide.
Kyogo Furuhashi showed a flash of menace in the 34th minute when he latched onto a pass from Callum McGregor just outside the box. The prolific hitman wheeled swiftly to whip in a left-foot effort.
Netminder Kelly didn’t move, but the attempt curled just wide of his right-hand upright.
Scott Bain, replacing the banned Joe Hart, was called into action shortly afterwards as he got down to block an angled drive from Harry Paton after his defenders had gone to sleep at a quickly-taken free-kick from the home side.
Yang was trying manfully to get involved on the right flank, but the South Korean’s touch was out and moves were breaking down far too often to be comfortable for manager Rodgers.
Well were content to allow the Hoops possession while they filtered into defensive positions mainly looking to do damage in breakaways.
ON THE RUN…winger Yang Hyun-jun in a race with Well defender Brodie Spencer.
Mastermind O’Riley tried to unlock the opponents with a low right-foot 16-yarder, but it lacked the oomph to trouble Kelly.
It was hardly a surprise at the start of the second-half when Rodgers put on James Forrest for Yang who just couldn’t pick up the pace of the game in the opening period.
Five minutes into the half, Liam Scales made a timely interception to halt Paton as he drove through the middle after playing a neat one-two.
Well claimed a goal moments later after centre-back Bevis Mugabi clattered Bain going for a high ball practically under the crossbar. He also looked offside and VAR ludicrously looked at the incident before ruling it out.
Stephen O’Donnell was lucky to escape with just a yellow card after a cynical lunge from behind to deck Daizen Maeda as he raced clear.
The Japanese flying machine was also finding difficulty in getting into his stride.
CRUNCH…Daizen Maeda is on the recieving end of a tough challenge from Stephen O’Donnell.
On the hour mark, Maeda blew a glorious opportunity to claim the breakthrough goal after being set up by the industrious Taylor.
He was left with just Kelly to beat, but wildly blasted an angled effort off target much to the relief of the home side. He should have done so much better – and he knew it.
In the 62nd minute, Gustaf Lagerbeilke came off with Liverpool loanee Nat Phillips coming on to line up alongside Scales.
Things were breaking down regularly with Maeda, the hero of last weekend’s 3-0 win at Livingston. In the 67th minute, he hit a ball into the grateful arms of Kelly with Kyogo screaming for a cutback.
Four minutes later, Alistair Johnston picked out the unmarked Forrest, but, frustratingly, the experienced forward failed to make a solid connection and it was easy for Kelly to grasp the effort.
Well were growing in confidence and Bain was forced to make another good save with his foot as he blocked a low netbound attempt.
Rodgers made a triple change as he sent on David Turnbull, Luis Palma and Oh Hyeon-gyu for Hatate, Kyogo and Maeda in the 76th minute.
Two minutes later, Honduran Palma scorned the chance to become an instant hero when he was presented with a chance, but he wastefully trundled a half-hit shot past the post.
The home side had all 11 players in their own penalty box as the Hoops tried to fashion an opening which ended with O’Riley swirling a shot off target.
WAIT FOR IT…Matt O’Riley tussles with Well defender Dan Casey for possession – but a matchwinning goal awaited the Celtic midfielder late in the contest.
Forrest joined the list of Hoops players to fail to worry the Well keeper when he was picked out with a delightful left-wing chip from Palma. The veteran winger was unmarked six yards from goal, but contrived to send a header straight at Kelly.
Anywhere else on target and it would almost certainly have been a goal.
However, Well were undone three minutes from time and it was a moment of invention from Palma to produce the goal.
The summer recruit accepted a pass on the edge of the box from McGregor, took a quick glance up and then sent a curling low effort wide of the startled Kelly.
The goal was greeted with as much relief as joy.
Amazingly, though, Well levelled in the fifth minute of stoppage time when the Hoops defence failed to cope with a long throw-in. The ball was worked in front of Blair Spittal and he left Bain motionless with a low shot that whipped in at the right-hand post.
However, that was not the end of the drama. O’Riley staged an unbelievable conclusion to the thrilling tussle as he hit the winner two minutes later.
The champions left it late – but no-one of a Celtic persuasion was complaining.
TEAM: Bain; Johnston, Lagerbielke (sub: Phillips 62), Scales, Taylor; O’Riley, McGregor, Hatate (sub: Turnbull 76); Yang (sub: Forrest 46), Kyogo (sub: Oh 76), Maeda (sub: Palma 76).