Celtic wasted a chance to return to the top of the Scottish Premier League as the champions were held to a 1-1 draw at Motherwell. Gordon Strachan's side needed a win to reclaim top spot from Rangers, but Paul Quinn cancelled out Australia striker Scott McDonald's opener to keep the Hoops in second place behind their Glasgow rivals on goal difference. The Parkhead side have let the title race momentum transfer to Rangers after a disappointing run of only four wins in their last ten league matches.
Strachan refused to be downbeat: "I said 'well done' to my players. I thought they were excellent. They had a lot of chances and allowed them to have one shot at goal, which isn't bad when you are away from home.
"There is a lot going right at the moment, but the team who has scored the most goals this season is top of the league and that's the way football is meant to work. We can't complain about that. Once we start scoring goals again, we will make it a right good race."
Strachan opted for a three-man attack featuring McDonald, Georgios Samaras and Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink. Glenn Loovens came in to partner skipper Stephen McManus at the heart of the Celtic defence, with Gary Caldwell moving into midfield and Paul Hartley and Willo Flood dropped to the bench.
With just one win in their last five league games, Celtic desperately needed a good performance to restore morale. They almost took the lead in the fourth minute when Samaras linked with McDonald, who curled his shot just wide. A mistake by Motherwell defender Steven Hammell allowed Vennegoor of Hesselink to race onto a Caldwell pass, but Graeme Smith was equal to the Dutchman's angled drive.
As Celtic pushed again, Hammell made up for his earlier mistake when he cleared a goal-bound shot by former Motherwell star McDonald. In the 32nd minute, McDonald turned Motherwell defender Mark Reynolds inside out before his low drive was parried by Smith. It was going Celtic's way, but Vennegoor of Hesselink then headed over from ten yards when he should at least have tested Smith.
The onus was on Celtic to regain top spot and in the 60th minute they took a step closer to doing that when McDonald fired them into the lead with what appeared to be some help from the poor Fir Park pitch. Stephen Craigan failed to clear his lines at the edge of the area, but although McDonald turned and got his shot away, it did not look likely to trouble Smith until it bobbled over his leg.
But in the 81st minute the home side drew level after Hammell took a short free-kick to James O'Brien on the left. Celtic's defence failed to clear O'Brien's cross and Quinn drove in a left-footed shot from 12 yards which sneaked past Artur Boruc.