MOTHERWELL 1 CELTIC 1
A PENALTY-KICK two minutes from time by Scotty Sinclair extended Celtic’s unbeaten domestic run to 66 in a frantic 1-1 stalemate at Fir Park this evening.
It looked as though the remarkable sequence was coming to an end when Mikael Lustig diverted a free-kick from Chris Cadden past Craig Gordon in the 78th minute.
Time was ebbing away when Andy Rose lunged at Callum McGregor and brought the midfielder crashing to the ground and referee Willie Collum unhesitatingly pointed to the spot.
The home players protested loudly, but it didn’t faze Sinclair who placed the ball, stepped back and then raced forward to thunder an unstoppable drive high into the corner beyond Trevor Carson, Well’s hero of the night.
The keeper twisted and turned every which way as the champions dominated possession and stepped up the pressure when they sent on Sinclair for Stuart Armstrong and then French striker Odsonne Edouard for own goal ‘culprit’ Lustig.
Once the smoke had cleared from the field of battle, the Hoops had extended their lead at the top of the Premiership to four points over nearest challengers Aberdeen who had on-loan Celt Ryan Christie red-carded as they went down 3-0 at Ibrox.
Paddy Roberts, who looked lively when he came on as a late second-half substitute on Sunday, started on the right with James Forrest on the left and Sinclair moving to the bench.
The little Englishman looked in the mood to make up for lost time after his enforced spell on the sidelines.
Unfortunately, he lasted a mere 11 minutes before going down with what looked like another hamstring injury. Brendan Rodgers didn’t waste any time as he sent on Tom Rogic to take his place.
Leigh Griffiths had the Hoops’ first attempt at goal in the fifth minute, but his shot was blocked.
As expected, the encounter was settling into a fiercely-contested contest with no quarter asked or given.
McGregor tested Carson with a low right-foot effort, but the keeper saved comfortably at his post.
Rogic had a drive cleared by Peter Hartley and just before the half-hour mark the Aussie sent another shot wide of target.
Celtic rolled forward, but weren’t getting it all their own way as Stephen Robinson’s side battled for everything. McGregor tried to snatch the breakthrough goal, but once again an outstretched leg denied him.
In the 35th minute, Dedryck Boyata joined the attack at a deadball situation, but the Belgian’s shot was wayward and never troubled Carson.
Five minutes from the interval, Richard Tait slammed in a rising shot that carried over the crossbar.
Sixty seconds later, the ball was back at the other end of the pitch, but McGregor’s left-footed shot was wide of Carson’s upright.
In first-half stoppage time, Kieran Tierney surged forward to hit a shot on target, but the Well keeper got down brilliantly to save at his post. KT couldn’t quite believe that he hadn’t scored.
Rodgers’ half-time pep talk fired up the visitors and within the space of three minutes, Griffiths and Forrest had shots cleared and then Tierney zipped one past the post.
In the 57th minute, the defiant Carson saved from McGregor and Louis Moult was off target as Well broke from defence.
McGregor flashed one wide before Sinclair came on for Armstrong in the 73rd minute and a minute later Rogic thumped one over the crossbar.
A goal just had to come and it did – for Well! After Collum inexplicably awarded the home side a free kick to the annoyance of Scott Brown, Lustig held his head in horror after deflecting Cadden’s deadball effort into his own net and three minutes later the Swede made way for Edouard as Rodgers changed the shape in an effort to get something from the contest.
In the 85th minute, Rogic brought groans from the Hoops fans when he smashed a right-foot drive against the upright with Carson hopelessly beaten for once.
That might have been the last post for the champions, but they dug deep again to come up with an answer.
And that was provided in the 88th minute when Rose brought down McGregor and Sinclair kept his nerve to calmly right foot an unstoppable effort high into the net.
It’s the end of the Celtic v, Motherwell trilogy at Parkhead on Saturday and it will surely be another hard-fought encounter.
For the time being, though, Celtic can enjoy Route 66 with 67 in view in three days’ time.
The Celtic players had to endure a barrage of abuse and thrown objects onto the field all night. The Motherwell hard man tactics meant that the late equaliser was all the sweeter. And whisper it, it didn’t look like a penalty. Ha flaming ha.
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