Partick Thistle 0 - 1 Celtic: Rodgers’ side make it 50 unbeaten

Celtic's Olivier Ntcham (left) and Scott Brown celebrate the opening goal. Picture: SNS
Celtic's Olivier Ntcham (left) and Scott Brown celebrate the opening goal. Picture: SNS
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Brendan Rodgers notched up another landmark moment in his relentlessly dominant tenure at Celtic as he stretched his sequence of unbeaten domestic fixtures since taking charge to 50.

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Olivier Ntcham’s first goal for the Scottish champions, midway through the first half, was enough to give their manager his 46th victory in that remarkable run. Celtic were some way short of being at their best but this is a group of players who will not easily be stripped of the aura of invincibility Rodgers has created around them.

It was never likely to happen at a venue where they have not lost since 1994 and they enjoyed the short trip across Glasgow once more. Yet another three points takes them into the weekend in their customary position at the top of the Premiership, leaving the rest to play a daunting game of catch-up.

There is a clear order of priorities for Rodgers at this juncture of the season and that was evidenced in a team selection which saw Leigh Griffiths begin his evening among the substitutes.

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Qualification for the Champions League group stage is the be all and end all for Celtic in these formative weeks of the campaign and the involvement of their only fit striker was always likely to be strictly rationed ahead of the first leg of their play-off round tie against Astana on Wednesday.

But as they illustrated in their 5-0 whipping of Kilmarnock in the Betfred Cup earlier in the week, Celtic can be confident of overcoming any domestic opponent regardless of the personnel their manager deploys.

Only Craig Gordon, Kieran Tierney and Jonny Hayes kept their places in the starting line-up as Rodgers made eight changes from the youthful side which had impressed against Killie. With Griffiths on the bench, it meant another run-out in the central striking position for James Forrest. The winger was the first to threaten for the visitors, receiving a pass from Scott Sinclair and drilling in a low shot which Thistle ‘keeper Tomas Cerny parried in the ninth minute.

The home side spared no effort in attempting to prevent Celtic settling into the possession-based attacking rhythm which has proved so effective and irresistible under Rodgers. But if the champions were not quite at their optimum levels of fluency, they were in firm control nonetheless.

A slip from Adam Barton allowed Ntcham to steal the ball and set up another chance for Forrest who this time dragged his shot wide of Cerny’s left hand post.

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Thistle, with on-loan Hearts striker Conor Sammon making his debut after signing earlier in the day, struggled to make any headway towards Gordon’s goal. A rare break did see Ryan Edwards bursting into the Celtic penalty area but the danger was snuffed out by Jozo Simunovic’s fine tackle.

Celtic’s response was to ratchet up the pressure at the other end which finally told with Ntcham’s 25th minute breakthrough. Stuart Bannigan conceded a free-kick on the edge of the penalty area with a foul on Callum McGregor, the set piece taken by Nir Bitton whose effort was turned behind by Cerny.

Sinclair floated over the resultant corner which was headed out by Jordan Turnbull, the ball dropping invitingly into the path of Ntcham. He struck his 25 yard shot sweetly and while it appeared to take an involuntary nick off Scott Brown on its way to beating Cerny, it would a harsh judgement from any dubious goals panel which denied the Frenchman the credit.

Brown himself came close to doubling Celtic’s lead ten minutes before the interval, his looping header from Mikael Lustig’s cross dropping narrowly over the crossbar.

Tierney, having recovered from a clash of heads with team-mate Simunovic, surged forward to pose the first threat at Cerny’s goal in the second half with his low shot fizzing just wide of the ‘keeper’s left hand post.

With opportunities for Thistle at such a premium, they simply couldn’t afford to miss the type of glaring chance which came Kris Doolan’s way in the 52nd minute. He was left unmarked to get on the end of a Christie Elliott cross but sent a tame header off target from close range.

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It was a reminder to Celtic that victory was not yet assured and Rodgers made a double substitution just after the hour mark with Hayes and McGregor making way for Griffiths and Tom Rogic.

Thistle remained combative, sensing the evening may yet offer them something tangible for their efforts, but they needed a goalline clearance from Callum Booth to keep out Lustig’s header from a Griffiths corner. As Celtic pressed for the insurance of a second goal, Booth was in the right place again to hoof a Sinclair shot off the line with Cerny beaten.

A slip by Brown offered a glimpse of goal to Thistle substitute Miles Storey, making his debut after signing from Aberdeen, but Tierney got back to neutralise the threat for Celtic.

Thistle made vociferous appeals for a penalty in stoppage time, Storey going down under a nudge from Bitton, but referee Andrew Dallas was unmoved.

PARTICK THISTLE: Cerny, Elliott, Keown, Turnbull, Booth; Barton, Bannigan (McCarthy 82); Lawless (Erskine 64); Sammon, Edwards; Doolan (Storey 57). Subs not used: Scully, Nitriansky, Nisbet, Penrice.

CELTIC: Gordon, Lustig, Bitton, Simunovic, Tierney; Brown, Ntcham (Armstrong 78); Hayes (Griffiths 62), McGregor (Rogic 62), Sinclair; Forrest. Subs not used: De Vries, Ajer, Ralston, Benyu.

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