SPL - Celtic return to top after dreary win

Eurosport - Sun, 29 Aug 13:52:00 2010

A second-half Daryl Murphy penalty was enough to send Celtic top of the SPL on goal difference with a 1-0 win at Motherwell.

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The Irish striker, a childhood Celtic supporter, clipped a cool spot-kick past Darren Randolph on the stroke of 74 minutes after Shaun Maloney was pulled down by Steven Saunders, who walked for the professional foul.

The visitors deserved the victory but it was another lacklustre and nervy performance that saw their support appear anxious and, at times, vocally disapproving of Neil Lennon’s side.

Indeed, despite the win and the return of the Bhoys to the summit of Scottish football ahead of Rangers on goal difference, cheers were mixed with boos at the final whistle as visiting fans sounded their discontent at what they see as an underperforming team.

With both sides looking to overcome respective Europa League disappointments, a bright and even start saw chances aplenty as Well went for Celtic from the off.

John Sutton headed just wide in the second minute and, straight down the other end, Irish keeper Randolph somehow kept out Maloney from close range.

Maloney, playing wide left but with license to roam, won a dubious free-kick on the edge of the box, took it himself and clipped the top of the bar with a dipping effort that left Randolph a casual observer.

Randolph was called into action again, tipping over a shot from Murphy that was heavily deflected by Stephen Craigan.

All that happened inside the first 10 minutes but after then the game degenerated into a scrappy affair, with little quality to match an admittedly positive attitude.

The best two chances fell to Maloney, whose movement and adventure was not matched by the finish when, midway through the half, he headed just wide from James Forrest’s cross and, just before the break, he fired into the side netting after a superb dribble inside from the left.

Forrest was playing in place of Efrain Juarez who, along with Biram Kayal and Lukasz Zaluska, paid the price for the Hoops’ 4-0 Europa League play-off second-leg loss at Utrecht in midweek.

While the Scotland U20 midfielder was energetic, he lacked the quality to hurt Well, with one piece of mis-control after Keith Lasley’s error let him run clean through symptomatic of the team performance.

The second half started with some decent Celtic pressure and a good chance for the Hoops, when Daniel Majstorovic headed new signing Emilio Izaguirre’s corner just over.

Georgios Samaras then fired weakly at Randolph after Scott Brown put him and the Greek again frustrated when he failed to pull the trigger after Well were unable to clear a free-kick from wide.

Celtic were banging on Well’s door now but, as the hour mark approached, the final ball still would not come.

Lasley went close for the hosts with a curling effort that flew wide, as Celtic continued to control possession without really ever doing anything.

Samaras was brought off to jeers from the visiting support, with Paddy McCourt’s entry cheered, and he made an instant impact with his direct running and simple passing.

He was involved as Murphy and Maloney both fired just wide in good passing moves, but had nothing to do with the opener when Well inexplicably allowed a defensive header from the Celtic defence run through to Maloney, who raced into the box and was hauled down by Steven Saunders for a penalty and a red card.

On his first Celtic start Murphy tucked away the spot-kick easily enough, sending Randolph the wrong way, and with 16 minutes left the match was now the visitors’ as they toyed with Well until the whistle.

Maloney was denied by a last-gasp intervention from Craigan after he trapped Brown’s long pass in the area, while McCourt again was involved as he showed neat footwork before firing a low shot at Randolph.

Motherwell, a man light and tiring by the second, offered little in the latter stages and Celtic comfortably saw out their third win - and clean sheet - in three games this season.

Reda Maher / Eurosport

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