Celtic 3-0 Motherwell: James Forrest, Albian Ajeti and Christopher Jullien on target as Neil Lennon’s men return to winning ways and bounce back from Champions League exit
- Celtic eased past Motherwell to recover from their early Champions League exit
- James Forrest first goal of the season had fired Celtic in front late in the first half
- Albian Ajeti and Christopher Jullien netted after the break to secure the victory
- The champions are now six points behind Rangers with two games still in hand
The external pressures on Neil Lennon to secure ten-in-a-row are great enough. Starting a home league game against Motherwell without a recognised striker is a quick way to add to the list.
This is clearly why football clubs pay the managers the big bucks. There are days when they have to make bold, risky decisions and stick their heads on the chopping block. Times when they have to fly in the face of the online mob and stick to their guns.
In midweek the Parkhead boss set himself against his own supporters by going without a recognised centre-forward against Fenerbache. Celtic crashed out of the Champions League and sticking with the starting eleven which spilled £30million down a manhole was never likely to build bridges with a fan base reared on the attacking brilliance of Dalglish and Larsson.
Celtic responded to their Champions League exit with a comfortable win over Motherwell
Neil Lennon had opted to name a team without a recognised striker but Celtic bounced back
The £3.5million January signing belatedly Patryk Klimala appeared at half-time and contrived to miss two huge chances. Yet that was one more than a team with no strikers crafted in the whole of a first half when a strike from James Forrest was all they had to show from a game where midfielders and wingers scurried around firing in balls to no one in particular.
Albian Ajeti, the £5million signing from West Ham, came on as a substitute 20 minutes from the end and thrashed the decisive second goal into the net within four minutes. By then Celtic had reshaped to a 3-5-2 and looked significantly more like themselves. It’s amazing the difference a striker or two can make.
Pre-match the Celtic boss explained his stance by insisting his two new strikers are still not match fit. And that might well be the case. The dilemma lies in how they actually *get* match fit unless they see game time. In that respect, at least, this was a useful day at the office.
Alban Ajeti netted the second goal after the break as Celtic laboured against their opponents
The £5m signing from West Ham (left) came on as a substitute and netted four minutes after
Yet it was also a day for supporters to feel a measure of vindication. As a club Celtic’s entire ethos is geared towards incisive attack play, something Neil Lennon knows better than anyone.
By defending his decision to stick with Ryan Christie up front and dismissing the criticism of recent days as ‘nonsense’ he did nothing to silence the gripes from the sidelines.
Even in an empty Celtic Park the relief which followed a strike from James Forrest five minutes before half-time was palpable.
Even with the injured Odsonne Edouard in the team breaking down a dogged, resolute, organised Motherwell would have been a bind. Without him a team of midfielders and wingers scurried around for 40 minutes toiling to find an out ball.
Celtic (4-3-3): Barkas; Elhamed, Jullien, Ajer, Taylor 6 (Frimpong 62); Brown, McGregor, Ntcham 6 (Ajeti 70 ); Forrest, Elyounoussi, Christie
Subs: Bitton, Soro, Turnbull, Bain, Frimpong, Harper, McInroy
Motherwell (3-5-2): Carson; Gallagher, Lamie 5 (White 68), Mugabi; O’Donnell, Grimshaw, Campbell, O’Hara, Polworth; Watt 5 (Lang 59), Long 5 (Hylton 88)
Booked: Lamie, Grimshaw
Subs: Hastie, Maguire, Seedorf, Robinson, Morrison, Cornelius
Referee: Don Robertson
Christopher Jullien was the unlikely man to score as Celtic moved six points behind Rangers
It needed the kind of probing, penetrating run missing from Callum McGregor’s game in recent weeks to break the visiting line. The goal came from a swift counter attack, the Scotland midfielder bursting from his own half to feed Forrest on the right side of the area.
Motherwell defender Ricki Lamie made the fatal mistake of standing off, allowing Forrest the time to steady himself before picking his spot to thump the ball high into the corner of the net for his first strike of the season. The celebrations felt like the release of a pressure cooker. Celtic needed inspiration from somewhere.
Lamie’s momentary lapse was tough on Motherwell. Stephen Robinson’s side defended well for the most part and threatened on the counter.
Celtic reshaped to a 3-5-2 and looked significantly more like themselves after a poor start
After ten minutes right-footed left back Liam Grimshaw turned in a crowded area and poked the ball towards the bottom corner, Vasilis Barkas scrambling to turn it round the post and flick it out for a corner with one hand at the second attempt as Chris Long lurked.
On the brink of half-time Motherwell threatened again. Stephen O’Donnell’s speared cross towards the back post area sailed over Celtic heads and landed at the feet of Tony Watt. The angle was narrow, the striker’s prodded effort blocked by the chest of keeper Vasilis Barkas.
The jury is out on whether Klimala has what it take to succeed at Celtic. Publicly the concerns are fitness related. Despite an opening day strike against Motherwell, however, the suspicion is that his manager isn’t convinced.
The Pole narrowly failed to connect with an enticing Christie cross from the left after 54 minutes then missed a simple tap-in from three yards after Greg Taylor laid the ball on a plate.
Jullien latched on to a pass in second half stoppage time and slammed home the third goal
The introduction of Frimpong and Ajeti dovetailed with a switch of formation to 3-5-2, Forrest switching to left wing-back. Celtic instantly improved.
Klimala managed to squander another superb chance when he was clean through on goal one on one with keeper.
Yet Celtic were merely saving the best for last. A clever prodded ball from Ajeti sent the lively, quick Frimpong scurrying towards the Motherwell 18 yard box. As Klimala’s striker’s run drew defenders one way, Frimpong went the other – a smart pass picking out the unlikely figure of Christopher Julien to slam home the third goal.