Second-half strikes keep Celtic top - report

Celtic 3 Motherwell 1

Celtic 3 Motherwell 1

Celtic pulled three second-half goals out of the bag to ease their European hangover and cruelly compound the pain of gutsy bottom-of-the-table Motherwell.

Motherwell‘s defiant and battling performance had threatened to frustrate Celtic after a goalless first-half.

But Henrik Larsson, an own goal from Scott Leitch and Joos Valgaeren‘s strike gave the home side some much needed medicine as they struggled after their midweek win over Celta Vigo.

Terry Butcher’s courageous men – with David Partridge, Daniel Sengewald and Stephen Pearson missing after being sent off last week – bagged a deserved consolation through Dirk Lehmann, but they had Shaun Fagan sent off late on.

It could have been a lot more comfortable for the home side had Larsson not missed a penalty after just 90 seconds.

David Fernandez was brought down from behind by Derek Adams’ clumsy challenge, but the striker blasted wide of the post.

Celtic bombarded the Motherwell goal early on and Hartson went close in the eighth minute when he headed Alan Thompson’s cross just over the bar from eight yards.

The ball fell kindly to Larsson just inside the box moments later, but William Kinniburgh made a great block to deflect his effort wide of the upright.

Fernandez then went close when Thompson spotted his run and found him in the area, but the Spaniard fired wide.

Paul Lambert was the next to threaten the Motherwell goal after Hartson had found Fernandez down the right and his cross was headed over by the midfielder from seven yards.

Motherwell needed courage to keep Celtic out and Lehmann and Francois Dubourdeau both needed treatment in their efforts to subdue the home side.

In fact they seemed to take the sting out of the home side and the supporters and they almost silenced them completely with three great chances in the 31st minute.

First Robert Douglas needed to divert Stephen Ferguson’s right-foot snapshot wide before he kept Martyn Corrigan’s point-blank effort out from Adams’ corner.

But the Scotland number one produced an even better stop moments later when the ball came to Ferguson again, but again his effort from six yards was turned away to his left.

That sparked a reaction from the home side and Thompson was the next player to squander a glorious opportunity.

Guppy found the penetrating run of Stephen Crainey and he pulled the ball back to the midfielder on the edge of the box, but he blazed his shot high over the bar.

Hartson was then inches from getting on the end of Guppy’s cross and Fernandez fired over in the dying second of the half, but Motherwell hung on for the half-time whistle.

Celtic again put the Motherwell goal under siege after the break and Guppy was close to getting on the end of Thompson’s corner while Larsson scooped the ball over from close range.

The Swede was having a day to forget and he should have done better in the 50th minute when Hartson flicked on Valgaeren’s ball, but he prodded wide with no conviction.

Larsson was unfortunate not to open his account in the 52nd minute when Fernandez found him at the far post and his header beat Dubourdeau.

But a minute later and he scored his 26th goal of the season when Guppy picked him out at the far post and despite coming off his shin it nestled in the back of the net.

Larsson should have made it two in the 55th minute when he fired over from inside the box with an open goal at his mercy.

Like last week Motherwell lost their heads and they had Fagan booked after clashing with Lambert, who was also shown a yellow card.

Brian Dempsie was also cautioned for a late challenge on Crainey before Hartson somehow missed two great chances from six yards after good work by Didier Agathe.

The home side still looked nervous and their defence stood off James McFadden in the 65th minute, but the Scotland man struck a right-foot shot past the upright.

That was a let-off for the home side and they responded by doubling their lead two minutes later when Leitch slid in to direct Guppy’s cross past his own keeper.

Valgaeren cruelly compounded Motherwell’s misery in the 73rd minute by converting Thompson’s free-kick from close range.

But the visitors were not dead yet and they pulled a deserved goal back two minutes later when Lehmann brilliantly headed home Stephen Hammell’s free-kick.

But Butcher’s men were reduced to 10 men with 10 minutes remaining as Fagan received his second yellow card for punching Paul Quinn’s cross into the net.

Crainey almost made it four when he unleashed an audacious long-range rocket which Dubourdeau did well to tip past the post.

Substitute Shaun Maloney was also unfortunate not to get on the scoresheet when his right-foot shot came back off the upright.

Hartson also missed an open goal with five minutes left before he tried to respond with a chip which landed on top of the net.

Dubourdeau produced another great save to deny Valgaeren in the dying seconds to keep the scoreline respectable.

Anything else would have been extremely harsh on the visitors.

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