They would not have been presented with a cup for their efforts. But to be the first team to defeat Celtic for 18 months would have earned Motherwell some form of compensation for Sunday’s Betfred Cup final heartache.
It wasn’t to be. It was written in the stars that Scott Sinclair would have a part to play despite starting the game on the bench. Motherwell fans booed him on when he eventually appeared after 72 minutes. With two minutes left he was standing over the ball on the penalty spot preparing to rub salt into Motherwell wounds after Andy Rose was adjudged to have impeded Callum McGregor in the box. The decision looked harsh and was cruel on the home side.
A neat finish high to the right of Motherwell goalkeeper Trevor Carson to cancel out Mikael Lustig’s 78th minute own goal meant Sinclair silenced the home fans.
It’s now 568 days and 66 matches since Celtic last lost to domestic opposition. Brendan Rodgers’ side can make it to the symbolic 67-game mark on Saturday against the same opponents. Episode two of this week-long drama between two sides based 11 miles apart saw the spoils shared. Motherwell can at least be satisfied with a well-earned point.
Carson emerged the star performer. McGregor was as impressive as ever but was left frustrated by both the goalkeeper’s resolve and his own poor finishing.
Referee Willie Callum, meanwhile, was beginning to breathe a sigh of relief on a night largely free of controversy before McGregor was knocked over by Rose in the dying moments. If Cedric Kipre’s tug on Sinclair was a contentious award at Hampden on Sunday, then this, too, was one.
Things were unsurprisingly feisty even without the initial presence of Sinclair, the villain of the piece in Sunday’s Betfred Cup final so far as Motherwell fans were concerned.
Rodgers elected to name Sinclair among the substitutes but there was an early sighting of him when he sprang to his feet to warm up after Patrick Roberts pulled up in the opening minutes. The home fans greeted him with some less than flattering choruses. But it was in fact Thomas Rogic who was called into action when it became clear Roberts could not carry on.
Rodgers spared Sinclair longer as the tackles continued to fly on from players on both sides. Kipre was able to take his place in the side despite his controversial sending off on Sunday after being spared an early red card for a lunge on Moussa Dembele, who was missing last night with the resultant swollen ankle.
Kipre went careering into Forrest while Stuart Armstrong was late on Chris Cadden. Louis Moult, meanwhile, barged Dedryk Boyata.
The trouble with games in such quick succession is that grudges can develop. The quick turnaround means anger has little time to dissipate.
But the tension bubbled under the surface for the most part. Carson, the Motherwell keeper beaten twice on the weekend, emerged the pivotal player in the opening half. A good block from McGregor after 20 minutes kept Celtic out with the midfielder sending the rebound into the side netting.
But the goalkeeper kept his best save for time added on in the first half, preserving the stalemate with a remarkable block with his leg from Kieran Tierney following a flowing Celtic move involving Rogic and Forrest. Somehow Carson was able to deflect Tierney’s effort from close in over the bar.
Motherwell had made few, if any, clear-cut opportunities by this half-way point bar a Carl McHugh header that cleared the goal in the opening minutes. Clearly conscious of the lack of chances his side had created Robinson made a change at half-time, replacing winger Deimantas Petravicius, who was making his full debut, with midfielder Andy Rose.
The second 45 minutes were undoubtedly livelier in terms of goal openings. Griffiths could not dig the ball out of his feet after Tierney’s sweeping cross and then Forrest saw his shot blocked by a clump of home defenders.
Then McGregor’s own personal duel with Carson resumed. The goalkeeper tipped the midfielder’s shot round the post and then was relieved to see another McGregor effort from wide on the left whistle just past his far post.
But the half was certainly a lot more end to end than the opening period. Moult hooked Cadden’s cross over the bar after Celtic goalkeeper Craig Gordon had failed to control a passback and then fluffed his kick.
Motherwell thought they might rue substitute Craig Tanner’s first involvement of the match being to fail to connect properly with Richard Tait’s cross from the edge of the six-yard box.
But it was Tanner’s delivery from a free kick that saw Lustig under sufficient pressure to put into his own net with 12 minutes left. The foul was earned in the middle of the park after Brown was penalised for bringing down Ryan Bowman. The Celtic midfielder was furious.
But the visitors’ mood brightened as McGregor drove them on. His shot was saved by Carson and then brilliantly clawed away by the ‘keeper. But the danger remained and Rose was penalised for a push on McGregor. Sinclair converted the penal