THE only wonder of Motherwell’s first win at Celtic Park since April 2008 was that it was merely by a single goal.
Fir Park manager Mark McGhee and his players’ mastery of a ragged Celtic really ought to have left the Scottish champions on the receiving end of a scoreline that made them appear as second rate as they truly were.
Stodgy in the first period, Ronny Deila’s side were dodgy at the back in the second with Motherwell passing up three glaring one-on-ones in between Louis Moult’s double that proved another step in their revitalising under McGhee. The Scotland assistant was in charge for that last win in Glasgow’s east end by the Lanarkshire side. That put severe pressure on his friend in the opposite dug-out, Gordon Strachan, before a dramatic Celtic title win was pulled from the fire.
Deila, in presiding over only one Premiership home defeat this term, won’t face such heat but the lukewarm nature of his side’s attack in the absence of Leigh Griffiths – out with an ankle strain – demonstrated precisely why the club were happy to extend the 25-year-old’s contract until 2021 on Friday.
Griffiths has talked about following in the footsteps of such as Scott McDonald, who produced a barnstormer of a performance in beguiling the home backline yesterday. If there was a true turning point to this encounter it was when the former Celtic striker’s feet were too quick, his thinking too sharp for Jozo Simunovic on the hour mark, with the scores tied at 1-1. McDonald drew an illegal challenge from the Croatian at the edge of the box that referee Bobby Madden rightly adjudged a penalty to allow Moult to breezily slot past Craig Gordon.
The 11th goal in 16 appearances for the Englishman, his tenth had allowed Motherwell to draw level five minutes after going behind to a 48th-minute 14-yard hit from Nir Bitton that came off Steven Hammell on its route to the net.
An angled, driven cross from the left by Marvin Johnson eluded a disjointed Celtic defence to allow Moult to slam the ball in at the back post.
“This is up there with making my debut for Stoke in the Premiership – maybe today just shades it because of the two goals,” said 23-year-old Moult. “I came from non-league football and when I was signing I looked at this fixture and I was excited about it. To score two goals is a dream come true. I felt it could’ve been more – we said that at the end. It could’ve been three or four. I’ve had another chance which on another day could’ve looped in, Marvin and Lionel both had one. That’s a real positive to take from the game.
“I’m a bit surprised it could’ve been more but we’ve shown quality in the past three or four weeks. I think the final pass is starting to be there today whereas at the start of the season it wasn’t. I’ve managed to get on the end of Marvin’s ball – relationships are starting to happen.”
Deila’s relationship with his club and its support will be a little dented by a display that contained the whole host of flaws that rear up in his teams periodically. A fourth home game without a win – defeats in the Europa League to Molde and Ajax following the Halloween win over Aberdeen – always appeared in the offing once Motherwell had gone in front. Celtic under Deila rarely retrieve situations late on, Motherwell stood firm, despite losing centre-back Stephen McManus after he was laid out cold when heading the back of substitute Carlton Cole in the 77th minute.
McManus had strong words with McGhee as he was hauled towards the dug-out in dazed fashion. “He was desperate to go back on but we weren’t going to allow that because clearly he had been out even for a second or two and he looked to me as though he was sparkled,” the Motherwell manager said. “I was just trying to say to him ‘your missus will kill me if I let you go back on, Christmas is coming’. The doctor will keep an eye on him tonight.”
McGhee believed the performance of his two forwards was just what the doctor ordered, meanwhile. “I think Scott McDonald and Louis have done well since I came here. Scott was terrific. But Luis with his goals, and scoring winning goals at Parkhead, is a great step in his career and he’s a terrific player. He is aggressive, has a great touch, a goal in him, an all-round great striker.
“We defended as a team and two of the most important defenders for us were the strikers.”