MOMENTUM continues to prove elusive for Ronny Deila as Celtic manager. On his 39th birthday, the only greetings which came his way from the home support yesterday were jeers at both half-time and full-time as two more Premiership points were dropped.
SCORERS: Celtic - Commons 68 pen; Motherwell - Sutton 19
With only one win from the last seven games and just five victories from his 13 games in charge so far, Deila has much work to do in order to convince Celtic fans of his worth.
This was another afternoon when wholesale changes to his starting line-up simply appeared to expose a lack of depth in the quality of his squad. After trailing to John Sutton’s fine strike for Motherwell at the break, it required the introduction of both Scott Brown and Kris Commons at the start of the second half to revitalise Celtic.
Brown earned the penalty which Commons converted to secure a draw. It was a match Celtic should have won on the basis of their second half pressure, although Motherwell deserve credit for their resilience and defensive organisation.
If Deila’s six changes were intended to freshen up his side, they had the opposite effect in a first-half performance which could hardly have been more stale. There was no fluency or urgency from the champions, which Motherwell were quick to seize upon.
Stuart McCall’s side would have been anticipating a rearguard action for much of the afternoon, as their 4-1-4-1 formation indicated, but there was little to concern them during the opening skirmishes. Dan Twardzik had to sprint from his line to cut out Callum McGregor’s piercing through ball ahead of Nir Bitton, but the Motherwell goalkeeper was not being placed under any sustained pressure.
Motherwell had their first sniff of a chance in the 12th minute when some static defending by Celtic allowed Sutton to knock the ball down into the path of Iain Vigurs. The unmarked midfielder might have done better than send his right-foot shot wide from the edge of the box.
But there was no reprieve for the home side when they fell behind seven minutes later. This time, the slackness began with Anthony Stokes as he lost possession cheaply on the halfway line. Craig Reid stormed forward down the right and delivered a fine cross which Sutton, stealing a march on the flat-footed Celtic defence, neatly volleyed beyond Lukasz Zaluska from around eight yards.
Twardzik was forced into his first real save of the match when he leapt with possibly unnecessary flamboyance to clutch Jason Denayer’s 25-yard effort as Celtic looked to respond quickly.
But Motherwell continued to profit from the absence of any cohesion in their hosts’ play and should have doubled their lead in the 27th minute. As deadly as he had been in scoring the first goal, Sutton was dreadfully wasteful this time as he contrived to shoot wide from inside the six-yard box after Keith Lasley’s effort had deflected kindly into his path.
Celtic continued to struggle to bring any meaningful tempo into their work before half-time. Beram Kayal cut in from the right to curl a decent effort narrowly wide, then Twardzik made a solid save to keep out Virgil van Dijk’s close-range header from a Stokes cross.
It was not enough to spare the Celtic players from a chorus of disapproval from the frustrated home support as they left the field at the interval.
Deila’s response was the double substitution with Brown and Commons replacing Kayal and the completely anonymous Aleksandar Tonev. The change of momentum was almost immediate, Celtic moving the ball much quicker and pressing their opponents with greater vigour in the attacking third of the pitch.
Commons’ movement soon caused problems for the Motherwell defence and he forced Twardzik into a smart save when he cut in from the right and unleashed a low shot from the edge of the penalty area. The German goalkeeper then got down well to keep out a curling effort from the lively McGregor.
The visitors were being forced to defend ever deeper and the pressure finally told when they conceded the penalty kick with 22 minutes remaining. Brown’s bulldozing run into the area was halted by Josh Law’s challenge and referee Brian Colvin had little hesitation in pointing to the spot.
Commons stepped forward and coolly drew Celtic level, driving the ball down the middle as Twardzik dived to his left.
It looked like the platform for Celtic to go on and claim all three points but they could not find the composure necessary to translate their dominance into a winning goal. Motherwell might even have snatched one themselves when Zaine Francis-Angol volleyed over from Law’s cross during a rare counter-attack.
Celtic poured it on in the closing moments, with both Stokes and Van Dijk only able to direct close-range efforts straight at Twardzik, allowing Motherwell to savour a hard-earned but precious point.