Petrov shows the way as Celtic go top


Celtic ... 4 Partick Thistle ... 0 The Scottish champions rounded off a perfect week with a 4-0 victory at Celtic Park yesterday to regain top spot from arch rivals Rangers.

Martin O'Neill's men made Blackburn Rovers and the critics eat their words in the UEFA Cup in midweek to set up a mouth-watering showdown with Spanish side Celta Vigo.

And yesterday they proved they were still the team to catch in the top-flight as they regained top spot, by two points, for the first time since early September courtesy of an own goal from Derek Whyte, a well-taken Stilian Petrov double and a Henrik Larsson goal.

Chris Sutton returned to partner 21-goal Larsson in attack, but while the understanding was there it was the Bulgarian Petrov who stole the show after being forgiven by the Celtic boss for his recent outburst over his contract.

John Lambie's men, however, remain three points off the foot of the table and they had no chance of success despite having Kenny Arthur in goal.

The Partick goalkeeper was their star man in the recent League Cup match which went to penalties and he stopped the home side taking an early lead after just four minutes. But the Thistle keeper could do little to prevent the champions from going ahead in freak fashion just moments later.

Lennon spread the ball wide to Sutton and his intended cross for Larsson was sliced by former Celtic defender Whyte under his own goalkeeper.

The Glasgow giants were looking to kill the game off early and after 22 minutes Sutton almost bagged his third goal in three games in brilliant fashion.

Larsson teed the ball up to him after Scott Paterson had made a hash of his clearance and the versatile Englishman volleyed just past the upright with Arthur beaten.

The Partick keeper continued to frustrate the home side with a save from Sutton and a great stop to deny Thompson in the 29th minute.

The visitors offered very little in attack and two minutes later Lennon won the ball in midfield and threaded the ball through to Petrov, who coolly side-footed the ball into the post corner past Arthur. Petrov finished cooly again in the 69th minute when Larsson and Sutton combined again before the latter picked him out in the centre and he casually chipped Arthur.

The Celtic favourite had the home crowd in stitches moments later as he got confused when the substitutes board went up and he wrongly headed for the changing rooms to a standing ovation before it was pointed out that Partick were making the change.

He rightly left the pitch late on and was given a warm hug by O'Neill as he walked past the dug-out - before Larsson scored his 22nd goal of the campaign late on.

The supporters showed what Petrov meant to them despite his recent comments over their contract offer, but the threat of him going is a massive concern for them and the manager.

CELTIC: Douglas, McNamara, Valgaeren, Balde (Fernandez 71), Agathe, Lambert, Lennon (Crainey 79), Thompson, Petrov (Maloney 79), Larsson, Sutton. Subs Not Used: Gould, Sylla. Goals: Sutton 10, Petrov 33, 68, Larsson 90.

PARTICK THISTLE: Arthur, Paterson (McKinstry 80), Whyte, Chiarini, Craigan, Mitchell (Gibson 83), Lilley, Hardie, Archibald, Burns, Britton (Walker 71). Subs Not Used: Budinauckas, Waddell.

Referee: K Toner (Scotland)