Celtic are in the midst of a manic October – nine games across three competitions – and in such intense periods, mental and physical stamina is given the ultimate test. While their Champions League aspirations are over, Postecoglou’s men are back to motoring along nicely domestically. This was an excellent follow-up to their 6-1 Premiership evisceration of Hibs at the weekend, maintaining their ambition of successfully defending the trophy they won last December.
Celtic have assembled a squad to give them the best possible chance of coping with three games in a week. Postecoglou freshened his team up with five changes and, with the game won by the hour-mark, was able to take off key players such as Matt O’Riley early. James Forrest, the hat-trick hero against Hibs, might have felt slightly aggrieved to lose his place but Liel Abada came in and scored twice, taking his goal tally to eight for the campaign. The Israeli scored 15 last season and is on course to surpass that. He was such a constant threat throughout, and was perhaps unlucky not to get a treble of his own.
With the fast-improving Aaron Mooy dominating midfield and the movement of Celtic’s front three of Abada, Kyogo Furuhashi and Sead Haksabanovic, one had to feel for Motherwell. Steven Hammell’s team put so much effort into Sunday’s match against Rangers and while they had a good chance blazed over the bar by Stuart McKinstry at 0-0, they were streets away from Celtic. The visitors’ reserve keeper Benjamin Siegrist – given only his second start for the club – was never truly strained.
Motherwell’s defence creaked and groaned in the first half, under siege from Celtic right from the off. It would have been unjust had they gone into the interval level. Celtic passed the ball with purpose. Furuhashi missed three chances, two of which he would normally take, sidefooting wide from close range and being denied by an excellent Liam Kelly save either side of a 22-yard piledriver that cannoned off the bar and down on to the goalline. Mooy and Abada were also denied by Kelly. But resembling a marathon runner who falls apart just as the finishing line comes into view, Motherwell conceded on 44 minutes, Abada tapping in a Greg Taylor cut-back.
Celtic knew a second goal would put this tie to bed. They set about getting it after the restart and their reward came on 56 minutes, Abada volleying home after a save from Josip Juranovic’s shot landed plum in his path. Now it was just a question how many Celtic would win by. On 60 minutes, Abada found Hatate in the six-yard box and he showed nimbleness to move the ball from right foot to left, flummoxing Kelly and making it 3-0. The fourth came on 76 minutes, Abada striking the post but Furuhashi converting the rebound from close range. Given his earlier misses and, by his underwhelming standards, meagre run of one goal in nine matches, that goal will have done his confidence no harm at all.
Perhaps the most illuminating observation of the evening was how effortlessly Celtic swept aside a Motherwell team that their title rivals, Rangers, struggled to overcome 2-1 at the weekend. This was another stark illustration of how much better this team is than the rest in Scotland right now.