Celtic move step closer to title
Celtic continued their relentless pursuit of the Scottish Premier League title with a narrow 1-0 win over Motherwell that moves them 23 points clear at the top with nine games remaining.
With the chance to close in on Rangers in second place, visitors Motherwell started the match in determined fashion and frustrated their hosts for the majority of the match.
However, despite already holding a formidable lead over their Old Firm rivals, Celtic showed no signs of easing up and made the breakthrough in the 59th minute thanks to a superb finish from top scorer Gary Hooper.
Crisis-stricken Rangers, who were docked ten points for entering administration earlier this month, play the first of two games in hand over the Hoops against Inverness Caledonian Thistle tomorrow.
But there seems to be no stopping Celtic, who have won 17 in a row in the SPL, as they close in on their first title in four years and remain on course for a clean sweep of trophies this season.
"It was a great performance and a great result. It's another three points and another clean sheet," said Celtic manager Neil Lennon. "I thought we were in the ascendancy for the majority of the game. At 1-0 it is always a bit tense but I don't remember my goalkeeper having to make a save of note."
His Motherwell counterpart, Stuart McCall, said he was proud of his players. "We switched off from a long throw-in and that was the most disappointing thing," he said. "In the last 20 minutes we had a right go at them but didn't test the keeper enough. But I was happy with the desire and drive we showed and the way we played."
Celtic start fast
At Celtic Park, Lennon demonstrated the strength of his squad as he made five changes to the side that won against Dunfermline Athletic on Wednesday. Stand-in captain Charlie Mulgrew was the first to come close for Celtic when he sent a low drive just by the post after Georgios Samaras' blocked shot landed at his feet in the box.
With 15 minutes gone, Darren Randolph just managed to clear the ball before Hooper pounced after the goalkeeper failed to hold Samaras' bouncing shot from the edge of the box.
Tom Hateley then made a vital block to deny Samaras as the Greek striker caused the Motherwell defence all sorts of problems. Ki Sung-Yeung saw his thunderous strike from 25 yards diverted just wide before Randolph easily held Kelvin Wilson's header.
Randolph came to the rescue again as he produced a one-handed save to palm away Ki's fierce free-kick on the stroke of half-time. Lennon brought on Anthony Stokes for Victor Wanyama in the 59th minute and within seconds Celtic made the breakthrough through Hooper.
Samaras chested a long throw-in from Adam Matthews into the path of his strike partner, who lashed a fantastic finish low under Randolph for his 16th league goal of the season.
The same pair combined for a chance minutes later when Samaras showed great skill to pick out Hooper deep in the box, but the striker's shot was stopped by the legs of Randolph.
Motherwell's Henrick Ojamaa picked up a booking for simulation after taking a dramatic tumble in the box before Randolph produced a superb save to stop a James Forrest strike.
Elsewhere, Dunfermline's relegation worries worsened with a 3-1 defeat away to St. Johnstone, while their nearest rivals, Hibernian, won 3-1 against Kilmarnock at Rugby Park. Dundee United leapfrogged Hearts into fifth place with a 2-0 win at Tynecastle, while Aberdeen and St. Mirren drew 1-1.