Motherwell 2 - 3 Celtic: Stylish Georgios Samaras has turned the tables to propel Celtic

LAST season, he succeeded only in providing a gleeful punchline to the title race for Rangers. This time around, Georgios Samaras has the appearance of a man determined to enjoy the last laugh.

Back in May, the Greek striker was substituted at half-time of a miserable display in Celtic's 0-0 draw at home to Hearts which saw their hopes of a fourth consecutive SPL crown fade away, while at Tannadice the exultant Rangers fans chanted 'Ha Ha Samaras' in response to his earlier ill-advised observation that the Ibrox club would not be deserving champions.

It's also fair to say that many Celtic supporters had formed less-than-approving opinions of Samaras at that point.

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But his display in Celtic's hugely entertaining victory at Fir Park on Saturday, which kept his side at the top of the SPL, underlined the qualities which persuaded Manchester City to pay 6million for his services almost four years ago and once prompted Sven-Goran Eriksson to hail him as a potentially world-class front man.

Samaras has too often in the past seemed to lack both conviction and confidence in his play, fading into anonymity following the slightest discouragement. Yet there have also regularly been glimpses of the touch, pace, game intelligence and finishing prowess he possesses.

If he can put them all together on a consistent basis, as his current form suggests he could, then Celtic have a player who may be as central to their title hopes as Kris Boyd is for Rangers.

Samaras was at the heart of an often compelling Celtic performance on Saturday, one which should have delivered a far more comfortable win for Tony Mowbray's team, running the Motherwell defence ragged at times and linking up astutely with his midfielders.

His superbly executed opening goal was his fifth in Celtic's current run of four successive victories which has eased the pressure on Mowbray, but Samaras insists there is more to come.

"Am I happy with how I am playing? No. I'm never happy with myself," he said. "Even if I play well, I will go back home, watch the match again and try to see what I did wrong. Then I will try to fix those mistakes. I ask more and more of myself, because I believe in myself.

"At the moment, I feel good within myself and my body is well, so I am enjoying playing football. But I don't think that each player has a maximum. I don't think there are limits for anyone. You can do more and more things if you work hard. In my opinion, there are no limits in football.

"Up until now, we have not been able to put together a good run this season but I hope this can be a good start for us. We have to stay focused and keep playing the way we have been. We are playing good football and scoring a lot of goals. The belief was always there in the team, it was just about finding our form. Now we have done that and we are looking forward to keeping it going."

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When Samaras, who had already seen a shot diverted onto the crossbar by Motherwell goalkeeper John Ruddy, glided beyond Mark Reynolds and Steven Hammell to drive a fierce right-foot shot into the corner of the net after 15 minutes, Celtic appeared on course to romp to victory.

But their almost effortless dominance of proceedings was wiped out by a combination of resilience from Jim Gannon's spirited young side and lamentable defending from Artur Boruc and his back four. Motherwell equalised in the 26th minute, Danny Fox beaten all too easily by Robert McHugh whose low cross from the right was flicked beyond the hopelessly positioned Boruc at the near post by Lukas Jutkiewicz.

Remarkably, Celtic then found themselves 2-1 behind just before half-time. It was a cleverly worked free-kick from Motherwell, Tom Hateley chipping the ball into the area where Jutkiewicz flicked it on for Reynolds to beat Boruc from close range, but Andreas Hinkel was negligent in failing to match the Motherwell scorer's run.

"When you are 1-0 up and then Motherwell score twice without really creating chances, then of course you are angry in the dressing room at half-time," said Samaras. "We had a blackout when they scored their goals, but we were much better for the rest of the game. Motherwell hardly got over the halfway line in the second half."

That is a slight exaggeration, but not much. Celtic seized control from the restart, playing with a verve and desire which made their ultimate victory feel inevitable. Aiden McGeady swept them level in the 52nd minute, receiving a lay-off from Samaras and beating Ruddy in some style with a curling shot.

Celtic's pressure was incessant but when the excellent Ruddy dived to his right to save Barry Robson's 66th minute penalty, after Samaras was tripped by Steven Saunders, it seemed they may be frustrated. It is not the first spot kick Celtic have failed to convert this season, a source of concern for Mowbray who revealed he will convene a training-ground meeting this week to nominate a new regular penalty taker.

Samaras, who has undertaken the role successfully for his national team, is ready to volunteer.

"If the manager asked me to do it, then it would not be a problem," he said. "But I think we have a number of good penalty takers. Aiden is good with them as well."

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Celtic's 79th-minute winner was a special moment for both the man who scored it and his manager. Marc-Antoine Fortune, less than a minute after replacing Fox, flicked the ball on to Scott McDonald and, receiving a return pass, smashed a fabulous right-foot shot high beyond Ruddy into the roof of the net.

The 3.8 million signing from Nancy has been almost a metaphor for Mowbray's teething troubles as Celtic manager, so this was a hugely significant contribution from the Frenchman as he seeks to prove the manager's faith in him is justified.