Rampant Celtic followed up their one-sided romp over Rangers with a dominant 4-0 win against overmatched Motherwell.
Another three-goal blitz before the break was too much for the Steelmen to overcome despite plenty of endeavor and determination.
The brilliant Liel Abada turned home Reo Hatate’s perfect pass before Tom Rogic helped himself to a deadly double before the break.
Daizen Maeda added a fourth in the second half for a side who are finding their best form at a crucial stage of the season to open a four-point lead over Rangers.
If there was a hangover from the away side after Wednesday’s exertions, it certainly wasn’t evident during the opening exchanges.
Abada stretched to reach Anthony Ralston’s teasing cross but Liam Kelly did well to clear with foot. The Israeli winger turned provider moments after, however, with his teasing ball going begging. Maeda conceded he was on his heels with a sheepish thumbs-up.
Graham Alexander hinted before the match he would aim to counter their opponents’ vice-like grip by pressing high and they forced some kamikaze passes but it came to very little actual pressure.
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Celtic continued to motor with Abada and Giorgos Giakoumakis cursing their final pass on a couple of occasions but Kelly was being spared a barrage of attempts raining down upon him.
Rogic, so often the pass master in green and white, was peeved after an outside of the boot pass sailed through to the Motherwell keeper, a sign that things weren’t quite motoring yet.
And the home side could sense it as they started a stretch of sustained pressure with multiple crosses and corners being hacked away.
But Celtic rebounded and Kelly’s smart save to thwart Giakoumakis was a warning sign moments before the opener.
Hatate’s stunning pass from the left eliminated three players and Abada was never going to miss when bearing down on goal.
The away fans were still savoring the opener when another present arrived, Rogic curled home a corker from his favorite angle at the edge of the box.
The Australian playmaker couldn’t help but raise a smile at his own genius before he was swarmed by jubilant team-mates.
That stunner was followed up another ridiculous pass from Hatate who kickstarted another attack with a daring ball with the outside of his boot to release Abada.
And 29-year-old Rogic wasn’t finished and he was on hand to find the net again with a thumping left-footed effort to tuck home the impressive Abada’s low cross.
The ruthless first half allowed Celtic to make two changes with Nir Bitton and James Forrest replacing Hatate and Abada, but that was trumped by the home side who made three changes.
And it was home replacement Joe Efford who provided a spark for the home side with a jinking run that resulted in Hart squinting through the low, winter sun to palm behind for a corner.
The threat from the visitors remained a live one and skipper Callum McGregor was cursing his luck after he skimmed a driven left-footed effort over Kelly’s bar.
Both teams had moments and it was sub Jota who rediscovered the away side’s jolt with a dazzling array of flicks, tricks a lovely cross for Forrest, whose downward header was turned away by the impressive Kelly.
The former Rangers keeper had no shot as he could only watch Maeda’s effort ricochet off Bevis Mugabi and into the net.
Further chances followed with Jota, Maeda and Rogic cursing their luck after gilt-edged opportunities were passed up. Josip Juranovic’s free-kick then hit the outside of the net.
But those were inconveniences were minor for a side who followed up a signature victory with another dominant 90 minutes.
Here’s 3 things we learned from the match.
A new Celtic?
Followers of the Parkhead side will raise an eyebrow at that, it was a showing was straight out the Postecoglou playbook. But this is a new Celtic in terms of options. The bench has been bare on so many occasions during the first half of the season due to two key factors, a mass recruitment drive didn’t fill every gap and a raft of injuries in recent months.
O’Riley has been excellent during his first three start’s but Rogic was on hand to remind everyone why he is so special. Josip Juranovic is certainly a fireball but Ralston is a more than able deputy. Giakoumakis doesn’t provide the darting runs like Kyogo, however, he’s up for the fight and his clever half-yard twists in front of his marker will reap rewards in the coming months. The introduction of Forrest and Bitton after the break underlined their growing strength in depth. Five changes and a squad that looks strong everywhere, a telling factor.
The grumbles from the home fans at the break were as much as exasperation as genuine anger. However, there was plenty to like about the home side’s endeavors during the first half. Even though they were outgunned. Sean Goss’ driving runs, at times, were able to give the pairing of Cameron Carter-Vickers and Carl Starfelt something to think about.
And the second half brief salvo, sparked by the like of Efford and fellow sub Ross Tierney underlined the grit and determination that is the basis of their current position of fourth in the table.
Celtic finding their second wind put a stamp on the result but, perhaps, the opposition up and down the country will be struggling to answer the league leaders right now.
Liel shows Happy Daiz are coming
Yes, Abada appears unstoppable right now but it’s been a season of maturation for a wide man who has mastered playing the Postecoglou way. In autumn, his main strength was his ability to do the dirty side of the game, but early promise exploded in recent weeks and he wreaks havoc every time he plays. A 20-year-old who makes a telling impact every game, he’s a top player who is only going to get better.
And it will likely be a similar case for Maeda, the Japanese striker is tireless but he’s still working up to peak sharpness. A striker Postecoglou worked with at Yokohama Marinos, the 24-year-old is doing loads of impressive things in terms of pressing and work-rate and a telling impact in the final third will likely be next. His versatility from him to play both through the middle and on the left is invaluable. His goal was celebrated by his team-mates.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.