THERE were all sorts out of the ordinary at Firhill yesterday.
A Partick Thistle penalty, for one, the club’s first in 69 games. A converted award, indeed, for the first time in more than two years. Most remarkable of all, though, was that, in the face of this, Celtic were dominant and won decisively. Even when, after Sean Welsh sent Craig Gordon the wrong way to slot in the spot-kick, they only had a one goal advantage for the closing minutes.
Knees did not knock among the visitors at that point, which isn’t what is supposed to happen with a Ronny Deila Celtic side. The visitors exhibited a vibrancy and focus seriously lacking in the league draws against Dundee and Hamilton Accies that preceded the three-point haul in Maryhill.
Central to the victory was a goalscoring performance from Callum McGregor, who afterwards expressed gratitude for his manager’s willingness to deploy him. The 22-year-old midfielder was earlier this month given a year’s driving ban and fined £500 as the result of being caught almost four times over the legal alcohol limit in February. Judging him in solely a professional context, though, McGregor was a shining light for his club, with Gary Mackay-Steven and Charlie Mulgrew also driving forces for their team. Oh, and Leigh Griffiths set up the victory with a opener seconds before the break, but that almost goes without saying in a season where his goal tally is now 35. Yesterday he wasn’t even fully fit, a stiff calf forcing him off.
Partick had one chance to change the complexion of the encounter – Kris Doolan only able “to throw a toe” at the ball and send it straight into Craig Gordon’s grasp after he had carved his way through the Celtic backline. Yet, that opportunity was offset by the half dozen that Deila’s side squandered, the only black mark on a day that allowed the Norwegian a smile post-match.
“We should have killed the game before. We had a lot of chances and that’s a positive thing,” he said. “You can frustrate yourself that the game wasn’t won sooner but I’m just happy for the three points. The performance was good as well.”
Maybe it is just coincidence that the month McGregor disappeared from the side following his serious indiscretion saw a form slump for Celtic. The midfielder claimed the goal his display deserved shortly after the interval when he received a pass from Mackay-Steven in oceans of space down the right flank and galloped into the box, feigned to square the ball before taking it himself and firing it across the bows of keeper Tomas Cerny. “He has been very good the past two or three months. He had a break because of other circumstances but he is showing a lot of confidence and he played very well today,” said Deila. “And scored – that’s important. “
Massively important for Celtic is that Griffiths can’t stop scoring. He pounced when a throw-in allowed Mackay-Steven to arc a cross in from the left, Danny Seaborne missed a header and Griffiths was allowed to pull the ball down and squeeze it into the corner in one seamless movement.
That slackness exasperated Thistle manager Alan Archibald. His side have lost by a single goal to the top three sides in the past nine days but, as he said, these games “will not define our season but the next four will [against] the bottom three and Ross County”.
Archibald ruefully stated that he was “shocked, stunned” when referee Stephen Finnie pointed to the spot after Erik Sviatchenko tugged the jersey of Steven Lawless in the 84th minute. Yet, curiously, when the club were last given a penalty, in September 2014, Finnie was also the referee. Thistle might be requesting him in their crucial quartet of upcoming games.
Griffiths 45; McGregor 54