Stokes on target as Celtic move to the summit
Inverness suffer heavy defeat at St Johnstone
Celtic’s Anthony Stokes scores a goal during the Scottish Premiership match against Motherwell at Celtic Park. Photograph: Danny Lawson/PA
Celtic 2 Motherwell 0: Celtic moved to the top of the Scottish Premiership with a comfortable win over Motherwell at Parkhead.
Anthony Stokes gave the Hoops the lead with an instinctive strike in the 20th minute when Well goalkeeper Lee Hollis failed to collect the ball after charging from his line.
Neil Lennon’s side had clearly shrugged off their midweek Champions League defeat to Barcelona and although Kris Commons missed two good chances before the break to extend their lead, he redeemed himself with a wonderful goal four minutes after the break.
Motherwell, unbeaten in their previous seven games, offered little in attack until late in the game when the points were already lost.
Lennon’s men leapfrogged Inverness, who lost 4-0 at St Johnstone, to lead the Highlanders by three points and only downside was the first half injury to Adam Matthews who was carried off on a stretcher nursing what looked like a shoulder or arm injury after a hefty challenge by Well skipper Keith Lasley.
After the adrenaline-fuelled visit of the Catalan giants in midweek, there was an understandably low-key start to the game.
Hollis had looked dodgy as early as the third minute when he flapped at an Emilio Izaguirre cross, causing some panic in the visiting defence before he gratefully fell on Hoops’ skipper Scott Brown’s close-range strike.
Five minutes later, Lasley’s crunching tackle on Celtic wide-man Matthews inside the Motherwell box at the expense of an ultimately fruitless corner left the Wales international in a heap off the park and the home fans enraged.
Matthews was carried away on a stretcher minutes later to be replaced by James Forrest in a straight swap.
Celtic kept control of the game and with John Sutton playing a lone striker’s role for the Steelmen, it looked like being a long afternoon for Stuart McCall’s side.
Stokes’s goal came as the Republic of Ireland striker was trying to shrug off having a shot blocked inside the box by Lasley, as the home side mounted another attack.
However, Stokes reacted quickly when Hollis came rushing out of his goal only to fail to collect Mikael Lustig’s cross, the Dubliner turning and firing his angled shot into an empty net.
It should have been 2-0 moments later but Commons headed another fine Izaguirre cross past the post from close range.
On the half hour mark Hollis made some amends with a fine save from Commons’s low drive after he had been set up Celtic defender Virgil van Dijk, before former Parkhead defender Stephen McManus blocked Forrest’s attempt from the rebound.
It was all rather straightforward for the home side and Izaguirre was next to have a go, his effort from the edge of the box slipping past Hollis’s right-hand post.
Celtic’s second goal in the 49th minute came when Iain Vigurs lost possession in the middle of the park although Commons still had a lot to do after getting the ball from Brown.
However, there was impressive confidence in the way he nutmegged McManus and got in front of Lasley before cleverly dinking the ball over the diving Hollis.
As Celtic threatened to rack up the goals, the goalkeeper blocked an angled drive from Forrest and then Stokes somehow blazed the ball over the bar from four yards after being set up by the Scotland winger.
Motherwell pushed forward in the closing stages with Celtic retreating in the knowledge they had done enough to take the points, although with five minutes remaining, Hoops goalkeeper Fraser Forster, called into the England squad this week, made a great point-blank save from Sutton’s header.
The former St Mirren striker missed the target with an attempt from the edge of the box moments later but it was far too little too late.