Motherwell 0 - 2 Celtic: Controversy as Celtic win Betfred Cup

Celtic's James Forrest celebrates his goal to make it 1-0. Picture: SNS
Celtic's James Forrest celebrates his goal to make it 1-0. Picture: SNS
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Just as he exhorts his players to do so, Brendan Rodgers continues to write his own history at Celtic.

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In becoming the first manager since Jock Stein to retain the League Cup for the club, Rodgers has also achieved the unique feat of winning the first four domestic trophies he has contested in the job. It is a sequence which you suspect has plenty of mileage left in it.

Celtic’s latest success under the relentlessly demanding Rodgers was tinged with controversy in the shape of a soft penalty awarded when Scott Sinclair went down under the flimsiest of challenges from Motherwell defender Cedric Kipre.

But the Scottish champions, after a scrappy first half which was impressively contested by Stephen Robinson’s side, already had their noses in front through James Forrest’s 49th strike when referee Craig Thomson made his contentious decision.

It was double jeopardy for Motherwell and the end of their hopes of a first major trophy since 1991 as Kipre was shown a straight red card for the offence before Moussa Dembele converted the spot-kick.

Twelve months ago, Celtic had this trophy wrapped up in green and white ribbons before half-time when they cruised to victory over Aberdeen. Until Kipre’s departure, this was much more of a contest. Motherwell’s determination to ensure this was the case saw them earn a huge ovation from their supporters when the interval arrived with the scoreline still blank. There was little doubt who was more satisfied with their work in the opening 45 minutes. Celtic were unable to exert their customary level of control over domestic opposition during this period with Motherwell goalkeeper Trevor Carson scarcely forced into any significant action.

He was well protected by those in front of him. Kipre, before his day went horribly sour, made a fine block to deny Stuart Armstrong a clear sight of goal at the end of one of Celtic’s few piercing attacks in the early stages.

Kipre, pictured right, then dispossessed Dembele on the edge of the box with a robust challenge which left the Celtic striker nursing a painful left ankle. Dembele’s unhappiness at the tackle, which went unpunished, saw him collect the first booking of the afternoon himself in the 15th minute when, still carrying his frustration from the earlier incident, he fouled Motherwell captain Carl McHugh with a studs-up challenge.

Motherwell’s defensive focus was impressively intense and Forrest saw his shot smothered and deflected wide after a powerful Armstrong run had initially opened up some space in the penalty area.

Robinson’s side also looked to be progressive whenever it was prudent. Richard Tait caught the eye on their right flank, his delivery causing concern in the Celtic box on a couple of occasions. It was Tait who had the first attempt of the day for his side, his shot sailing a couple of feet wide of Craig Gordon’s left-hand post.

Carson was forced into his first save of the final in the 31st minute and had no trouble gathering a tame Dembele header from Mikael Lustig’s cross.

It was a day when Motherwell would feel a set piece might give them their best opportunity to make a breakthrough. Jozo Simunovic’s stray elbow in the face of Ryan Bowman offered them such a chance from around 25 yards but Louis Moult’s well struck free-kick was clutched by Gordon high to his right.

Motherwell were visibly growing in confidence and threatened again three minutes before the break when another good cross from Tait was partially cleared by Dedryck Boyata, the ball falling to Chris Cadden who screwed his shot wide.

Celtic had lacked the dynamism and authority which have become their trademark during the long unbeaten domestic run under Rodgers but they rediscovered both in emphatic fashion to take charge at the start of the second half. Forrest’s opener was sharply worked and expertly finished. There was suddenly greater tempo to Celtic’s passing and the Motherwell defence were stretched as Dembele and Callum McGregor shuttled the ball across the edge of the penalty area into Forrest’s path. The winger cut inside on to his left foot and bent a precise shot around the helpless Carson into the corner of the net.

Motherwell tried to find a quick response and were denied an equaliser four minutes later by a breathtaking reaction save from Gordon. The Celtic goalkeeper threw out his right arm to keep out Moult’s powerful close-range header from Andy Rose’s cross.

It proved to be a pivotal moment as the momentum of the final then swung irretrievably away from Motherwell with Kipre’s concession of the penalty and dismissal. The defender’s arm-to-arm touch of Sinclair, who burst clear of him into the area, was slight but enough for the Celtic winger to tumble to the turf.

Referee Thomson had little hesitation in pointing to the spot, that decision followed by the inevitable red card for a distraught and disbelieving Cipre. When the Motherwell protests subsided, Dembele stayed calm as he drilled the penalty straight down the middle to beat Carson.

The remaining half hour was reduced to a simple damage limitation exercise for 10-man Motherwell. Despite their leg-weariness, they somehow managed to prevent Celtic adding to their tally, although substitutes Leigh Griffiths and Patrick Roberts both came close.

Moult almost provided Motherwell with a moment of consolation in the final seconds of stoppage time when his free-kick smacked back off Gordon’s left hand post but they had simply become just the latest victim of this Celtic team’s insatiable desire for silverware.

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