Monday 18 December 2017

McCourt magic lifts Bhoys back to the summit

Celtic 1 Motherwell 0 Ronnie Esplin

PADDY McCOURT pulled the strings as Celtic returned to the top of the SPL with an unconvincing home win over Motherwell last night.

Rangers' game at St Johnstone fell foul of the weather, leaving their neighbours with a chance to leapfrog them to top spot -- a chance which they duly took thanks, in no small part, to Derryman McCourt.

McCourt's fine 27th-minute strike proved the only goal of the game.

Olivier Kapo made his first start for Celtic -- but he would last only 38 minutes as he was replaced injured by Daryl Murphy.

Manager Neil Lennon rang the changes with James Forrest, Joe Ledley, Mark Wilson and Anthony Stokes also coming in to start.

Motherwell, who are expected to confirm Stuart McCall as their new manager this morning, showed one change to the side which lost 4-1 at home to Rangers at the weekend, with caretaker boss Gordon Young bringing in Marc Fitzpatrick for Nick Blackman.

Lennon had Kapo in attack alongside Stokes, but it was defender Emilio Izaguirre who had a great chance in the second minute when 'Well 'keeper Darren Randolph spilled a low Ledley drive. However, despite facing an open goal, the Honduran left-back somehow blasted over the bar.

Kapo had the ball in the net in the 12th minute only to be ruled offside, seconds before McCourt headed a Forrest cross wide of the target.

It was not surprise when, in the 27th minute, Celtic took the lead, with the inspirational McCourt breaking the deadlock. After yet another Hoops corner had Motherwell pinned back in to their own penalty area, the Northern Ireland international took a pass from Wilson, drifted in to the box and almost casually curled a right-footed shot into the far corner past Randolph.

Six minutes later, Ledley was sent clear by Stokes and his low left-footed shot from 16 yards sped past Randolph but also past the far post.

Kapo was soon replaced by Murphy, although the Waterford man had to be replaced himself in the 52nd minute by Beram Kayal. The change seemed to disrupt Lennon's side and for the first time in the game Motherwell began to string a few passes together.

In the 58th minute, Fitzpatrick got on the end of a Chris Humphrey cross but failed to connect properly from six yards and the ball bounced into the arms of Fraser Forster.

Scott Brown's 90th-minute sending off for a second bookable offence couldn't prevent Celtic taking top spot.

Irish Independent

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