Saturday 7 December 2019

Keane keeps Celtic's slim title hopes alive

Falkirk 0
Celtic 2

Robbie Keane scores the second of his two goals for Celtic against Falkirk yesterday
Robbie Keane scores the second of his two goals for Celtic against Falkirk yesterday

Roddy Forsyth

His expensive presence is highly unlikely to swing the Scottish championship in Celtic's direction at this stage of the proceedings, but it can fairly be said of Robbie Keane that he was the difference between the teams in Falkirk yesterday.

The Bairns may be propping up the table but they had twice deprived Tony Mowbray's players of points already this season and, had Keane been spearheading their attacks and not Celtic's on this occasion, they would likely have added a victory to their tally.

As it was, two trademark touches of Keane's finely honed reflexes -- one in each half -- were sufficient to give his side a victory that keeps Rangers in sight, although only on the far horizon.

In each case the outcome was a foregone conclusion once he skipped off the shoulder of the nearest defender, first to rifle home a prompt from Morten Rasmussen and then when he latched on to a free-kick from Marc Crosas which was lanced straight through the heart of the Falkirk defence.

For this outing, Celtic had to emerge from the shelter of the barrage of criticism the club had directed at referees and the Scottish Football Association for the previous 10 days -- although there was a last salvo from Aiden McGeady, aimed straight at Dougie McDonald, the match official for last week's Old Firm derby -- and place their intermittent form back in the front line.

In keeping with such imagery, the pockmarked playing surface at Westfield was a version of no man's land, mainly bereft of grass and seamed with bumps and divots within moments of kick-off.

In these circumstances, the shortest distance between two points is anything but a straight line and for spells the conditions nullified any attempt at fluent passing play so that the referee, Brain Winter, had to be alert for the awkward bounces that could throw players off balance in their challenges.

Keane signalled his menace with a spurt that took him clear into the box for a powerful angled left-foot drive which Robert Olejnik did well to turn aside for a corner kick and the goalkeeper did well to divert another drive from the on-loan Tottenham man a few minutes later.

Falkirk were diligent and at times clever, although they were let down by their usual weakness of failure to crown fine build-up play with ruthlessness in the box. Even their tally of nine corners to Celtic's eight could not breach the cordon around Artur Boruc's goal, although these events frequently produce heart-stopping interludes for Mowbray's defenders.

Falkirk had clearly worked on trying to exploit the weakness and for one corner all their players in the Celtic box clustered, almost in a huddle, then scattered like a starburst across the 18-yard margin, only to find that the delivery was nowhere near any of them.

Mind you, when Colin Healy subsequently picked out Ryan Flynn for an overhead kick, Boruc palmed off his line without knowing much about what had happened.

By that stage, though, Celtic were ahead and the same pattern -- pleasing passages from Falkirk and menacing returns of serve from their visitors -- continued throughout the contest. Had Vitor Lima been more accurate when he finished the best Falkirk move of the match with a shot just over the top or had Scott Arfield not seen his fine half volley blocked at the post by Boruc, they might well have got something from the game.

As it is, they remain rooted to the foot of the division, three points behind Hamilton and St Mirren, both of whom they play before the league splits into top and bottom sixes. (© Daily Telegraph, London).

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