Celtic claim title with victory over Partick
Anthony Stokes scores twice at Firhill as Neil Lennon’s side wrap up third consecutive SPL win
Celtic’s Leigh Griffiths (left) and Anthony Stokes during the 5-1 win over Partick Thistle at Firhill Stadium. Photograph: Russell Cheyne/Reuters
Partick Thistle 1 Celtic 5
Neil Lennon became the fourth Celtic manager to win three successive league titles when goals early in both halves and two late goals ensured that crossing the finishing line would be as straightforward as the process which had got the Parkhead club to that stage.
Two of Lennon’s titles have come without the inconvenience of having to play their bitter rivals, Rangers, but enfeebled as much of the opposition has been this season, his side went about their business efficiently. Celtic got to the title with seven games to spare, racking up their 27th win in 31 matches.
A first goal for the promising teenager Liam Henderson and a double for Anthony Stokes were the highlights of this latest routine win against a Partick Thistle side who, as they have done for most of this campaign, played some neat football but lacked incisiveness.
After a wretched run of home results – no wins in the league until February – Thistle at least had consecutive 3-1 victories over Aberdeen and Hibs to buoy them as they set out to prevent a Celtic celebration on their patch. Nor was spoiling Celtic’s party their only motivation as the occasion provide the opportunity to overtake Ross County and Kilmarnock in the race to escape the play-offs.
Lennon’s side, who in stark contrast had failed to win just two of their 15 away games, took a mere 150 seconds to puncture Thistle’s confidence. It was a ridiculously simple goal, too; the left-back Emilio Izaguirre took a pass from Kris Commons before cutting in and delivering a right-foot cross from just outside the box. The ball found Anthony Stokes standing on his own – but clearly onside – at the far post and the striker headed the ball past Paul Gallacher at his leisure.
In view of their superiority, both in the league table and in this fixture, Celtic hardly needed to be settled by an early goal but equally it buoyed their aspirations of winning the title in style.
They wasted no time searching for a second, but the home side weathered the early pressure and with a dangerous outlet of their own in Kallum Higginbotham, started to give the champions-elect some questions to answer.
Benign conditions in Glasgow allowed two teams who like to play passing football a perfect platform but if the patterns were pretty clear-cut, chances were few in the opening half hour. Thistle upped the ante with a free-kick from Higginbotham which went just wide of a post and nearly carved Celtic open a minute later, but Chris Erskine could not capitalise.
The home side continued to ramp up the pressure and a fierce shot from Gary Fraser was deflected for a corner by Efe Ambrose. Then, at the other end, Commons wasted a free-kick in the same manner as Lyle Taylor had done for the home side minutes earlier. The Thistle striker did much better almost on half-time, lobbing Fraser Forster before the ball hit a post and rolled over the line, but his side got no reward as he was fractionally offside.
Celtic brought on Liam Henderson for the injured Adam Matthews at the start of the second half and it took the teenager just four minutes to send the large visiting support into raptures. Izaguirre was again the provider and this time his low cross was dummied by Commons and then Leigh Griffiths. That freed up the 17-year-old and he took one touch before firing a low right-foot shot past Gallacher for his first Celtic goal.
Unlike the case in the first half, Lennon’s side quickly followed up with another. It was the best of the three as soon after Stefan Johansen exchanged passes with Griffiths before continuing his driving run and drilling the ball into the goal.
Although now in a hopeless position, the home side responded well with Fraser forcing Forster to make his first good save of the night and Taylor twice going close. Opportunities were coming much more frequently than in the first period, with Commons nearly adding to Celtic’s lead at the other end.
Thistle’s sub Christie Elliott pulled a goal back five minutes from the end, but Celtic had the last laugh with injury-time goals from Stokes and the top-scorer Commons.