However, the devastation that Ange Postecoglou’s men inflicted in another blistering first half as Motherwell went the way of Rangers in midweek told entirely otherwise. It served to indicate that downplaying the fixture’s significance is rot.
With a three-goal first 45 minutes at Fir Park, to follow on from such a triple salvo against Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s men, Celtic showed the burgeoning of their belief and command that swatting aside their title rivals could bake in. It is no coincidence that the eventual 4-0 victory made for their biggest away win in the cinch Premiership this season…a matter of days on from their Rangers tousing supplied them their most comprehensive home league win since August. Or that integral to the Lanarkshire lashing were Liel Abada and Reo Hatate – two men who were to the fore in midweek.
Of course, there were also notable differences between these pastings dished out by Postecoglou’s men. Chief among them the presence of the peerless Tom Rogic, who was not available through international commitments that have deprived his club of his wiles from him for the past fortnight.
The Australian, in for Matt O’Riley, showed his effortless class with a scoring double that took Celtic into the interval in clover. Unlike Rangers, after surviving an early blitz Graham Alexander’s team actually put their visitors under a bit of pressure. Only for Celtic to decide it was time to put them to the sword with two superb strikes in the 28th and 31st minute.
The frst was all about Hatate’s composure and vision which allowed him to sweep over a cross from the left that Abada pounced on to drill across the body of Liam Kelly, who by then had already denied Giorgos Giakoumakis on a couple of occasions.
Then the irrepressible Rogic took over. A man who makes the glorious look effortless, his first counter to him was a 20-yard curler into the top corner that he made appear as natural as breathing to him. In the final seconds of the first half, it was a similar story. Corking set-up work from Abada, who ate up the ground to catch a raking 40-yard pass from Anthony Ralston on the byline, resulted in a cutback that Rogic met first-time to send flying into the top corner.
The depth of squad now assembled by Postecoglou allowed him to withdraw Hatate and Abada at the break, and Callum McGregor and Giakoumakis after an hour, and still have his team put the thumbscrews on the home team. They were fortunate that the only further damage inflicted was a curious 71st minute goal from Daizen Maeda. Sent through on goal and challenged by Bevis Mugabi as he shaped to shoot from the edge of the box, the upshot brought a perfect result for the Japanese striker as the ball looped high in the air and over Kelly before bouncing over the line.
Motherwell: Kelly, Mugabi, Solholm Johansen (Grimshaw 82), McGinley, O’Donnell, Donnelly, Cornelius, Carroll (Tierney 45), Slattery (Nirennold 81), van Veen (Woolery 45), Goss (Efford 45). Not used: Fox, Hopefully, Amaluzor, Roberts.
Celtic: Hart, Ralston, Carter-Vickers, Starfelt, Taylor (Juranovic 80), Rogic, McGregor (O’Riley 63), Hatate (Bitton 45), Abada (Forrest 45), Giakoumakis (Jota 63), Maeda. Not used: McCarthy, Johnston, Bain, Welsh.
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.