CELTIC sauntered through to the next stage of the League Cup with a smooth masterclass against Motherwell at Parkhead tonight.
Brendan Rodgers must have purred with delight as his players knocked the ball around with cohesion, accuracy, pace and also with a fabulous fluency of movement and purpose.
Two goals apiece from Tom Rogic and Moussa Dembele and an exquisite effort from Man of the Match Scott Sinclair left Mark McGhee’s team in disarray in a largely one-sided ¬†contest.
The Hoops boss cleverly replaced Mikael Lustig and Scott Brown during the second-half to keep them fresh for the Champions League qualifier against the Israelis of Hapoel a week tonight.celtic-v-motherwell-scotland-football_3761844
Saturday’s encounter with Inter Milan in Limerick might come under the heading of the International Champions Cup, but, in reality, it will be nothing more than an exhibition game between two old European foes.
This confrontation was perfect as the champions geared up for the real thing at the same venue next week.
Heroic Craig Samson stood between Motherwell and an absolute hammering in the first 45 minutes as the overworked keeper kept the Hoops to a two-goal advantage.
Rogic, celebrating his new three-year deal, scored one, but could have added another three with a little bit of good fortune as the Fir Park outfit, thumped 7-0 the last time they performed at Parkhead, withstood a battering.
It took 11 minutes for Rodgers’ team to make the shotstopper work, but Callum McGregor’s low shot from outside the box didn’t worry Samson unduly as he scooped up the ball.
He had to look lively five minutes later, though, as Sinclair, Sunday’s debutant matchwinner against Hearts, cut in from the lft to curl a wicked right-foot effort low towards the keeper’s left-hand post. The Fir Park No.1 saw the danger and catapulted across his line to push the ball to safety.
However, even Samson had no answer when Rogic thundered in the breakthrough goal in the 20th minute. No keeper on the planet would have kept that ferocious attempt out of the net.
James Forrest, another Celt fresh from agreeing a three-year extension, was involved at the edge of the box as he pushed the ball back to McGregor.
The midfielder picked out the Aussie with a cute reverse pass and Rogic tamed the ball with his right before turning and lashing an unstoppable left-foot drive from eight yards high into the net.celtic-scotland-football_3761845
Eight minutes later, there was a frantic moment when Samson made two fabulous saves and Dembele struck the crossbar. Rogic started off the penalty-box pandemonium when he latched onto a Sinclair pass and cut inside onto his left to drive a vicious shot to Samson’s right.
The shotstopper hurled himself once again to push the ball away, but it went straight to the lurking Dembele who whipped it back towards goal. It took a deflection off a frantic Well defender before crashing off the woodwork back to Rogic.
Once again, he torpedoed a drive towards the right-hand corner of the net and, remarkably, Samson was there once more to turn the ball away for a corner-kick. It was breathless stuff and a minor miracle the Well goal escaped.
In the 33rd minute, bang-in-form Rogic tried again to beat Samson with a crisp 20-yarder, but the Well saviour swooped to his right to save again.
A minute later, though, he had to admit defeat when Celtic were awarded a penalty-kick after panicking Well defender Richard Tait was flummoxed by a neat stepover and driving run by Sinclair into the box. The right-back flattened the attacker with a blatant push and referee Kevin Clancy had no option but to point to the spot.
Dembele, as he had done last week against Astana in the Champions League, had no hesitation at taking the award and zipped an unstoppable effort high into the keeper’s top right-hand corner of the net as the luckless Samson guessed wrong.
The second-half was only a minute gone when the Hoops defence went to sleep at a right-wing corner-kick, but escaped punishment as Ben Henigan headed just wide of the target. Rodgers would not have missed the lack of cover at a setplay once again.
Ten minutes later Brown went on a mazy run and was only repelled when Samson dived to his left to parry his finishing effort as it skidded along the turf.
In the 61st minute, Sinclair, swiftly becoming a favourite with the Hoops faithful, scored the goal of the night with a sublime effort. He controlled a pass from Rogic, teased his way into the box from the left and then measured a drive into the static Samson’s left-hand side.
And the fans were singing again three minutes afterwards when Dembele completed his double after his original shot was blocked. The quick-witted Sinclair nudged it back into his tracks and this time the Frenchman slammed a shot low into the corner of the net.
And the hard-working Rogic claimed the fifth and final goal on a satisfying evening in the east end of Glasgow as he stroked home from two yards after a shot from Forrest had been pushed out by Samson.
It was a great night’s work by the Hoops, but the real test, of course, is only a week away.
Celtic’s next round opponents will be Alloa at home – a perfect draw as we look towards a European focus in the autumn.
TEAM: Gordon; Janko (sub: Ralston 81), Lustig (sub: McCart 68), O’Connell, Izaguirre; McGregor, Brown (sub: Henderson 78), Rogic, Forrest; Dembele, Sinclair.
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