Motherwell 1 Celtic 3
Second-half goals from substitute Aiden McGeady and John Hartson eased Celtic’s defensive concerns to send them 10 points clear of Hearts at the top of the Bank of Scotland Premier League.
Jim Hamilton struck arguably the goal of the Scottish season to cancel out Maciej Zurawski’s opener just before the break.
Motherwell then tested Celtic’s almost completely different defence – which saw Stanislav Varga, Adam Virgo and Mo Camara come in from the cold – with Roy Keane injured and Stephen McManus suspended.
But after Hearts’ unexpected slip-up against Kilmarnock on Saturday, McGeady, with the hint of a deflection, and Hartson hit the net to almost certainly kill off Graham Rix’s championship hopes.
Having seen the team sheet, Motherwell knew they could trouble the Hoops defence and that theory was given more substance in the third minute following a dangerous Steven Hammell corner.
Richie Foran rose above the Hoops defence to head towards the bottom corner of Artur Boruc’s net but Camara was in the right place at the right time to clear off the line and deny the home side.
At the other end former Rangers goalkeeper Graeme Smith prevented his side from conceding an own goal in the ninth minute.
Shunsuke Nakamura’s free-kick flicked off the head of Martyn Corrigan and appeared to be looping over the head of the Motherwell number one but he back-pedalled and tipped the ball over the bar.
But Zurawski broke the deadlock in the 17th minute when Stilian Petrov played the Pole through and he held off the challenge of William Kinniburgh to fire the ball past Smith and into the corner.
Maloney had his head in his hands in the 25th minute after sending a free-kick just past the far post.
Referee Charlie Richmond again upset the home fans by penalising Alan McCormack’s clumsy tackle on Nakamura.
Motherwell expected the Japanese playmaker to step up but it was the youngster who curled a right-foot effort wide from 21 yards out.
The man in black again angered everyone connected with the Steelmen moments later when he waved away their penalty protests as Scott McDonald went down on the edge of the box from Nakamura’s challenge.
Stephen Craigan stopped Hartson scoring a second goal for Celtic in the 32nd minute when he got ahead of the Welshman at the back post to head Maloney’s inviting cross behind for a corner.
Celtic’s chief tormentor in the past McDonald went past Paul Telfer in the 40th minute but Camara anticipated the cross and cleared the ball up field with Hamilton lurking.
But the journeyman scored a contender for goal of the season in the 41st minute to emphatically haul the home side level.
Brian Kerr picked Hamilton out on the edge of the area and he sent a stunning left-foot volley across Boruc and into the top corner of the net to spark wild celebrations among the home players and fans.
Celtic responded through a Hartson header from seven yards which Smith got down well to save.
Richmond provoked the Motherwell fans again by booking McCormack for throwing the ball down in a rage in the 51st minute.
The referee again angered the home side in the 55th minute when he denied them a penalty when Camara appeared to body-check Kevin McBride as he attempted to latch onto his own ball inside the area.
Strachan made the first change of the game in the 62nd minute with McGeady replacing Nakamura – and he clearly was out to make an impression.
The champions-elect forced themselves ahead in the 71st minute thanks to a huge slice of luck.
McGeady picked up the ball on the edge of his box and his deflected shot wrong-footed Smith and ended up in the corner of the net.
But McDonald was clutching his head in his hands in the 74th minute after heading Foran’s cross wide from just three yards out.
Strachan made an unpopular change with the home fans soon after with former Motherwell youngster Stephen Pearson replacing Zurawski.
The home side were again unfortunate not to pick up a point after losing out narrowly to Rangers last week and Hamilton took his frustration out on Petrov to earn another booking.
But as they chased the equaliser Hartson wrapped up the victory for Celtic by steering home McGeady’s cut-back with four minutes left.
Kinniburgh fired wide with three minutes remaining before McGeady crashed a left-foot shot against the crossbar.