A DAY that began with a minute’s applause in appreciation of a late Celtic hero, Bobby Collins, carried on with more of the same for the marquee player of today.
Scorers: Celtic - Commons (5, 39 pen), McManus (68 og)
Kris Commons scored twice to add to the goals mountain he has already built this season, both of them in the opening half, and those strikes effectively killed off this game. Having not conceded a goal domestically in eight matches (make that nine), Neil Lennon’s team were hardly going to let slip such a lead.
The stats for Commons and for Celtic are impressive. It was the midfielder’s 19th goal of the season and Celtic’s ninth domestic clean sheet on the bounce in a run of ten league wins in a row and not even Anthony Stokes’s silly 80th-minute lunge on Keith Lasley, and subsequent red card, could compromise those numbers.
Motherwell, for all their good form in recent weeks, were subjected to an early kill. It wasn’t so much that they played badly – they didn’t – it was more a case of getting suckered twice early on and never recovering. The third one came as Motherwell pushed on looking for a way back in and to add to their frustration it was an own goal, sliced in by Stephen McManus, who has scored here before, but not like this.
Stuart McCall’s team came here in good heart with buckets of goals and confidence to match but it’s usually the way of things with Celtic that as soon as they sniff a domestic opponent that has notions of victory against them, they tune-in and teach them a lesson.
It is never a good idea to fall behind early in this place, especially when you’ve got a track record like Motherwell have at Celtic Park. They hadn’t won here in ten attempts going into this match, but that’s nothing out of the ordinary.
What stood out, though, was the fact that they had only scored one goal in all those games while conceding 21.
McCall’s side have had plenty of joy against Celtic at Fir Park – the recent 5-0 deconstruction apart – but in Parkhead the tendency has been to sound the funeral march as soon as they appeared up the tunnel.
Commons’ early breakthrough was their worst nightmare writ large; the guarantee of a long, long day. Some of the goals the midfielder has scored this season have involved thunderous shots from distance or intricate football and ruthless finishing. This one featured another part of his weaponry – his understanding of where to be and his rapid anticipation when a ball breaks free. When Stokes came tearing in from the left and fired a shot on Gunnar Neilsen’s goal, Commons had positioned himself in the middle of the Motherwell penalty area, like a bird of prey waiting to swoop. Neilsen did well to beat away Stokes’s angled shot but when the ball went loose, Commons reacted quicker than any Motherwell defender and put it away.
It’s hard to know where to place Commons in the annals of great-value Celtic purchases, but he has his place in the list, no doubt about it. At 30, he is never going to have a resale value for the club but then no manager in his right mind would ever consider selling him while he’s banging in so many goals and involving himself in so many assists.
An outlay of £300,000 for a goal tally that has passed 50 and is now heading inexorably towards 60 in two full seasons and two half seasons is the output of a class act, not a bargain bucket buy, which is what he was at the time.
This was a feisty enough game. Motherwell didn’t score but they competed, they got stuck in and they created a few chances, not least for James McFadden, who was gifted a fantastic opportunity to beat Forster by Efe Ambrose and then blew it when shooting weakly at the Celtic goalkeeper.
By then, Celtic were two goals clear, of course. And it could have been more. They had multiple efforts on Neilsen’s goal – a Stokes shot, a Charlie Mulgrew header, an attempt by Virgil van Dijk that went over – but the only one that found its way past the Motherwell goalkeeper was the penalty that arrived after Stokes was brought down by Neilsen as he attempted to go around him. Commons stood forward and smashed his effort down the middle and into the roof of the Motherwell net.
Celtic got a third late on, just after Stokes clipped the visitors’ crossbar and just before he got himself sent off. It began with James Forrest scampering away down the right and when he sent in his low cross, McManus tried to clear it but only succeeded in sending it flying past his own goalkeeper. The defender has had more illustrious days at Parkhead.
The champions continue freewheeling towards the inevitable. Twenty-one games unbeaten now. You wonder what that number will stretch to in the weeks and months ahead.