Celtic’s long unbeaten run against domestic opponents was extended in this fixture, which featured yet another Scott Sinclair goal – his 22nd of the campaign but Partick Thistle plundered an invaluable and improbable point from the east end of Glasgow thanks to the combined efforts of Ade Azeez, who equalised Sinclair’s opener, and Tomas Cerny, whose save from a Sinclair penalty kick provided the motivation for Alan Archibald’s players to hold on for a merited draw against considerable odds.
Celtic began without seven regulars in the form of Dedryck Boyata, Kieran Tierney, Scott Brown, James Forrest, Stuart Armstrong, Leigh Griffiths and Moussa Dembele. The latter two were still recovering from injury, but the absence of the others indicated that Rodgers was husbanding his resources in consideration of the remaining targets, which included the preservation of an unbeaten record in domestic games and the pursuit of a clean sweep of the Scottish honours.
Any team playing against the runaway league leaders would welcome such an apparent dilution of strength, most particularly Partick Thistle, who had lost 24 consecutive meetings with the Hoops prior to this encounter. The Jags, though, had to cope with the enforced absence of influential players, including Kris Doolan and Chris Erskine who, with 22 goals between them, had contributed significantly to Thistle’s impressive showing amongst the top six of the Scottish Premiership.
Also missing were Steven Lawless and Abdul Osman. All four had picked up injuries, leaving Thistle’s resources so stretched that Doolan, Erskine and Lawless were all on the bench. In such circumstances, it was predictable that the half-time ratio of possession favoured Celtic by 71% to 29%.
Less likely was the fact that not only was the game still scoreless at that stage, Thistle had created and missed the best chance of the half. It began and ended with Azeez, who brushed off an a challenge by Jozo Simunovic, played a pass to Callum Booth and got on the end of the midfielder’s ensuing cross only to slash it over the top from eight yards.
As we know from endless examples this season, the champions punish such profligacy with ruthless efficiency, so it was from a familiar script that Sinclair delivered the next act, with a reprise of his second goal against Hearts in Sunday’s 5-0 drubbing of the Tynecastle side, when he accepted a prompt from Patrick Roberts and placed his finish low and tidily behind Cerny.
Thistle, astonishingly, replied in kind midway after 63 minutes. Chris Elliot created the opening with a tight cutback which Azeez flicked cutely past Craig Gordon. Scarcely had this turn of events registered with the crowd than the Firhill side conceded a penalty kick, when Booth tumbled Sinclair and was cautioned for his offence.
Sinclair struck his attempted conversion at mid height but also close enough to Cerny for the goalkeeper to push it wide of his right hand post, to the abundant pleasure of his team mates.
Teams with less spirit than Thistle would have withdrawn into a siege disposition. Instead, they unsettled the home crowd by constructing a midfield platform to spring a series of attacks which looked increasingly menacing until they reached their climax with a pounding run along the left flank and into the box where he was deprived of what could have been a legendary winning goal by a tremendous saving tackle by Simunovic.
Celtic’s relief was evident from the slaps delivered to Simunovic’s back. Thistle’s reward was the loud acclaim from their knot of fans in their small corner of a rapidly emptying stadium.