LAST season, Neil Lennon was left in a state of bemused fury when none of his players made it on to PFA Scotland’s shortlist for their Player of the Year award.
Celtic 3-0 Motherwell
Scorers: Celtic - Commons (5, pen 39); McManus (og 68)
It is already safe to say he should not experience similar feelings of resentment when the individual prizes are dished out at the end of this campaign.
Just as the engraver could confidently start scratching Celtic’s name on the Scottish Premiership trophy already, their latest victory on Saturday stretching Lennon’s side 13 points clear at the top of the table, so it appears a pretty safe bet that Kris Commons will be hailed as the country’s outstanding performer.
A rich vein of form, which strengthens his case for a new, longer-term contract with the Scottish champions, was maintained as he orchestrated a convincing win over a Motherwell side whose own impressive recent momentum was predictably halted in the east end of Glasgow.
Commons’ first-half double, supplemented by a Stephen McManus own goal after the break, took his goals tally for the season to 19 in 30 appearances. It is an exceptional strike rate for someone who operates in a playmaking role and there is so much more to Commons’ contribution to the Celtic cause.
The 30-year-old possesses a sense of imagination and game awareness which makes him stand out from the rest in Scottish football’s top flight on a weekly basis. James McFadden, the Motherwell playmaker who, at his best, shares many of Commons’ attributes, is in no doubt about the influence of his former international team-mate.
“Kris Commons was the difference between the teams,” said McFadden. “Celtic are a totally different team when he is playing well. He is a big threat. He picks up the ball in great areas and gets in the hole. We found it difficult to deal with him. He was excellent.
“I’ve been in Scotland squads with him before. There was a bit of banter between us at the start of the second half. No, I wasn’t telling him to calm down after what he’d done in the first half! But he’d obviously had a huge impact on the game.”
It took just five minutes for Commons to put Celtic in command. A typically incisive pass found Anthony Stokes on the left of the Motherwell penalty area. When the Irish striker’s shot was parried by Gunnar Nielsen in the visitors’ goal, it was Commons who had made the supporting run to be on hand for a simple finish from seven yards.
Celtic looked the more menacing side throughout. Motherwell did put together some neat passages of play, with Iain Vigurs and Lionel Ainsworth both catching the eye on occasion, but were unable to cause any real concern to the home defence in the first half.
The task facing Stuart McCall’s side became more daunting six minutes before the interval when Celtic doubled their lead from the penalty spot. Nielsen raced from his line to wipe out Stokes, leaving referee Bobby Madden with a decision even he could not get wrong in what was overall a woefully erratic performance by the official.
Commons stepped forward to smash the ball high into the roof of the net, in a manner reminiscent of the crucial penalty he converted last season against Spartak Moscow to clinch Celtic’s place in the last 16 of the Champions League.
To Motherwell’s credit, they made a sustained effort to drag themselves back into contention at the start of the second half. Fraser Forster was finally forced into action, although the Celtic goalkeeper should have been left with no chance when he comfortably held a tame close-range shot by McFadden in the 54th minute.
“I think it would have been a game-changer if I’d scored,” reflected McFadden. “You have to take your chances against Celtic. They were clinical and we missed ours. I should have buried the chance at 2-0. It wasn’t a good save – I missed. It was a bad miss, I should have scored.”
Celtic responded smartly to that let-off, Stokes striking the bar from the edge of the box and Commons coming within an inch or two of a hat-trick with a low shot. But any doubt there was about the outcome disappeared when luckless former Celtic captain McManus saw his attempt to cut out a James Forrest cross sail into his own net.
“We came to have a go and the plans kind of went when Celtic scored so early,” added McFadden. “But we stuck at it and made a fair few chances ourselves.
“Okay, we lost 3-0, but I think we gave a good account of ourselves. We played well. We probably didn’t deserve to win the game, but 3-0 was an unfair scoreline.
“On another day, we might have got a wee bit of luck and made it harder for Celtic. When they go in front early, it’s hard to take anything out of the game.”
Celtic have not lost a home league fixture for 14 months and remain undefeated in the Premiership this season after their tenth consecutive victory on Saturday. McFadden can envisage them completing the campaign unbeaten.
“There’s still a long way to go in the season and it will be hard for them to maintain it every week, with the expectation levels that they win every game,” he said. “I wouldn’t be too surprised if they did it, but it could go either way.”
The only sour note for Celtic on Saturday was the 79th minute dismissal of Stokes for a reckless and needless foul on Keith Lasley which brought him a straight red card. There was a feeling that the Motherwell captain had been singled out for retribution.
“Keith is the type of player who is totally committed and he flies into tackles,” observed McFadden. “He was on the end of some as well. The last time we played here, he got a bit of stick for a tackle on Adam Matthews which wasn’t even a foul. I think they remembered that. But you want passion in the game. You don’t want it just to be easy-oasy and ‘you have the ball’ then ‘we’ll have the ball’. You need tackles in the game.”