Second-half goals from Scott Sinclair and Leigh Griffiths earned Celtic all three points from their trip to Firhill.
Whatever the difficulties that Celtic might be encountering with one striker, they can still count on another of precious capabilities. Leigh Griffiths may have endured a similar up-and-down season to the unsettled Moussa Dembele. But while Brendan Rodgers seems unwilling to turn to the Frenchman in this January window, after his team found themselves in a pickle at Firhill last night, he didn’t hesitate to go to Leigh Griffiths, who, in turn, wasted little time in yanking them out of it.
Trailing through a first-half Conor Sammon penalty, Celtic were meandering. The Scotland striker, who Rodgers introduced by switching to a back three, transformed them into menacing. And after they got themselves back on terms courtesy of a Scott Sinclair penalty, Griffiths provided the sorcery that ensured their continued erratic form did not prevent them extending their Premiership lead to 11 points.
When Griffiths picked up the ball near the touchline on the right, he seemed to have little on with two Partick Thistle players between him and the goal. He somehow wriggled through both, however, and then beat Tomas Cerny with a tickle of a shot that seemed to roll past the keeper in slow motion. His celebration was an almighty outpouring that could be read as a reflection on his frustrations to - like Dembele - earn a consistent run of stars, This latest effort will help his chances. Good goalscorers make much from little, and for his 13th goal of a stop-start season, Griffiths did all of that.
The 27-year-old was back in the squad last night after an ankle knock sidelined him at the weekend as Celtic resumed their season following a three-week winter shut down.
He didn’t make the starting line-up and that meant the team fielded by Rodgers could be categorised as in the novel bracket. This had nothing to do with the presence of Dembele on the bench again but the fact that, with no changes from the Scottish Cup win over Brechin at the weekend, it made for only one of a handful of times he has played the same team in back-to-back fixtures across 99 games in charge.
Dembele was never going to feature in the starting line-up after, damningly, his manager stated he felt he was too distracted by transfer speculation to offer the necessary “focus” to the team. A view endorsed pre-match by his assistant Chris Davies who made the stark admission that the French under-21 international had arrived at the conclusion that the time had come to move on. He needs such reported suitors as Crystal Palace and Everton to pony up with an £18m bid for that to happen.
The striker might have watched the first 45 minutes delivered by his team-mates and pondered that it seemed as if he was far from the only Celtic player whose mind appeared elsewhere.
Thistle, without a win over their Glasgow neighbours since 1995, were driven and determined as they got up-close and personal with their opponents and blocked off any pockets of space with an impressive zeal.
It had a disorientating effect on the Scottish champions subsequent to an initial flurry in which on-loan Paris Saint-Germain striker Odsonne Edouard blew an outstanding chance with a tame effort at Cerny from the centre of goal.
The Maryhill side quickly developed an ability to force mistakes from visitors all-too-readily compliant in that. Sloppy defending from Kristoffer Ajer resulted in Craig Gordon having to reach for the sky to tip over a Ryan Edwards a long-range drive that had real heft. Thistle almost broke on to Celtic again when Olivier Ntcham was similarly lackadaisical.
Indeed, such was the pattern that when calamitous error arrived that earned Thistle a half-time lead, it didn’t come as any great shock. Mikael Lustig was simply hapless in attempting to clearance down the right channel with the result that to allow Miles Storey was able to bound past him with the ball.
With the Thistle man bearing in on goal, the Swede attempted to yank him back, making some contact. The fact that Gordon then saved at the forward’s feet as he shot while stumbling probably spared the full-back a red from referee John Beaton, who decreed a caution was sufficient.
Sammon launched the resultant penalty kick straight down the middle to see the Celtic keeper for the first time in his club’s past six outings as the Irishman took his tally to four goals in three games. A sharp contrast from the one goal the Irishman’s previous 18 appearances yielded.
Rodgers recognised that changed was required at the interval. He made a bold one by introducing Griffiths for Lustig and reshaping his backline. The effect was almost instant. The flow of the second period was not exclusively towards the home goal - Thistle had two opportunities they will rue - but it wasn’t long before a turnaround in the contest started to look inevitable.
That said, after Griffiths missed a one-on-one, it required Mustapha Dumbuya to do a needless impression of an octopus in the way he wrapped his leg round Scott Sinclair at the edge of the box for Celtic to have their perfect comeback catalyst. The English winger wasn’t going to pass it up, stepping up and performing a shuffling before slamming the spot-kick awarded into the far left-handed corner for a 17th goal of a supposed inconsistent season.
Celtic thereafter pushed at the door eventually opened by a Griffiths’ whose ability to find a way to goal is a God-given.
Partick Thistle: Cerny; Dumbuya, Keown, Cargill, Penrice; Osman, McCarthy; Spittal (Barton 55), Edwards, Storey (Erskine 77); Sammon (Doolan 70). Subs: Scully, Booth, McGinn, Nitriansky.
Celtic: Gordon; Lustig (Griffiths 46), Boyata, Ajer, Tierney; Brown, Ntcham (Bitton 84); Forrest, McGregor, Sinclair (Simunovic 77); Edouard. Subs: de Vries, Dembele, Johnston, Kouassi.
Referee: John Beaton