To play football the Glasgow Celtic way: Motherwell 0-5 Celtic
Having missed the bulldozing of the Hearts development squad last Sunday, when I wearily went for a piss at 4:30am and noticed the (otherwise pretty useless…?) Celtic Live app light up on my phone and remind me of the fact Celtic were playing Motherwell in 15 minutes, there was no way I was missing the chance to see a good few goals going in.
And I wasn’t disappointed in the least!
Neil Lennon’s recent change of system mobilised the Celtic starting 11 into producing 7 goals last week, some of which were incredible team efforts, mixed with some sublime solo efforts. Indeed the formation last week with the midfield diamond afforded Celtic the vast majority of the ball and gave Neil Lennon the type of football he referred to as his Utopia. Hearts were cut to shreds as the narrow midfield created space on the wings for Izaguirre and Lustig to move quickly past their opposite numbers and find team mates. Pass and move, pass and move, pass and move. Triangles, triangles, triangles.
Down Fir Park way this evening Neil Lennon opted for a different approach, more in the mould of his mentor Martin O’Neill with a 3-5-2 (it really was 10 players and a poor goalie who has now been dubbed ‘Forster the snowman’). Nir Biton came out and Charlie Mulgrew slotted back into defence with the rock solid duo of Virgil Van Dijk and the new father Efe Ambrose. Lustig and Izaguirre were again preferred for the task of attacking from wing backs while Teemu Pukki and Anthony Stokes were chosen for a front two. Brown and Ledley were our resident Lenny and Lambo combination while Kris Commons on scintillating form provided the playmaker (oh, go on Lubo! Lubo! Lubo!) role.
It took just 26 seconds before Teemu Pukki was setting up Mikael Lustig coming in off the right, and making the motherwell keeper pull off a stop, from what on closer inspection was actually a rather weak effort. Lustig can hit a ball (just ask Hearts!) and I couldn’t help but think if he had put his foot through the ball it would have been too much for Ryan Neilsen.
Unfortunately that was largely where the chances stopped for the first half; there was infact a period of around 20 minutes of the first 45 where very little happened.
Except, of course for the stonewall penalty denied (first of two) denied by referee Steven McLean, when Scott Brown’s corner was ‘handled out for a corner’. But Celtic came up with the goods on the 44th minute. Lustig’s ball in had no takers at first time of asking, but Stokes’ shot was cleverly backheeled by Kris Commons for yet another opener from the talismanic midfielder. It was everything that Celtic deserved going by possession stats, and by their intentions on the game. Stuart McCall’s side had kicked everything that moved and in one particularly nasty challenge (see Nir Biton’s Vs Milan at Celtic Park, with a higher degree of velocity) on Teemu Pukki, Motherwell picked up a booking on only the 16th minute, and Joe Ledley for the first ten minutes was the only fouled player on the park, sent stumbling on three occasions. Joe Ledley had a terrific first half, every attack we had went through him as he found space in the middle of the park. He often has a thankless job, but I wonder if a highlights reel of Joe’s contribution to the Celtic cause was made there would be a huge sea change in popular opinion about how important he is to us. I really hope we sign him up again.
Motherwell’s captain Keith Lasley was booked for dissent in the aftermath of the goal, angrily demonstrating that Commons was offside (he wasn’t) and was then given free rein to continue leaving the boot in by referee McLean.
Despite this it was from a corner that Celtic doubled their lead on the 55th minute when Efe Ambrose scored with a well-placed header, coming in at speed towards the far post.
The twittersphere were asking lots of questions of Pukki at half time and into the second half. Our unfortunate striker’s head had gone down in recent weeks but I thought that judgement of his performance tonight was unmerited. Having taken a bad challenge he kept his head in the game on a miserable evening, his side only one goal up, and moved well (his movement is excellent!) linked up, tried to provide. But put him in front of goals and it just wasn’t happening for Teemu.
And then when he was making an excellent move into the box with the ball at his feet a Motherwell defender slid in, left the foot in, clearly coming down on Pukki’s foot and took him down.
But referee Steven McLean saw it the other way and Pukki was booked for simulation in the second of our two stonewall penalty denials.
The Celtic players were furious (except Pukki who stared incredulously at the referee!). This for me was a good sign – as sign of unity amongst our players, especially for one who isn’t getting the rub of the green at the moment. Support for Team Teemu continued as it seemed most of our efforts were being a concerted effort to ‘Get the ball to Pukki’. But alas it was not happened for him, the clearest effort being when a last ditch tackle saw his shot taken over the bar – but a by kick was awarded (of course!) But it wasn’t the end of the evening for Teemu yet.
Celtic scored their third and fourth goal in quick succession: Izaguirre who had worked industriously throughout the game found himself about to lose possession more centrally than you’d expect to see him, but a bit of strength snubbed out the tackle before it was made and suddenly Izzy was curling an effort goalward. Neilsen got a hand to the ball only for it to drop onto the toe of Kris Commons who followed footballing lessons for 10 year olds and was making a follow up run just in case. If hard effort is rewarded then Commons must be the hardest working player in the Celtic team at the moment.
Goal four came suddenly out of a glorious pass out of central defence from Mulgrew (who showed the type of vision that we used to herald Nakamura for) sending the ball curling towards Pukki, who had avoided the offside trap. Pukki moved quickly into the box before cutting it back to Stokes who doesn’t miss opportunities like that.
As good a ball as it was the work wasn’t over as Pukki showed that there is no I in Teemu…
It was at this point Pukki was given the ovasion he deserved in my opinion; fans chanted his name as he was substituted with Commons for Atajic and Boerigter.
So quickly had the Celts doubled the lead to four, that the fans were chanting for five, expecting possibly even six or seven again. Derk Boerigter went close, hitting a shot off the crossbar.
Finally, it was the promising Atajic who sealed a five star performance with a lovely chip of Neilsen amongst the snow, who must have thought on the 89th minute his humiliation was complete. But on minute 90 Atajic’s goal redoubled it as he left the keeper stranded with his first goal for senior team.
It was a wonderful performance from Celtic who have rightly taken some criticism in the month of November. But as December begins Celtic, without Europe to think about (beyond a meaningless away tie in the Nou Camp) are showing signs that it’ll be anything but a season of goodwill.