Sport Soccer

Sunday 21 January 2018

Stokes red card fails to dampen Lennon's mood as Celtic run continues

Celtic 3 Motherwell 0

Celtic's Kris Commons scores a penalty
Celtic's Kris Commons scores a penalty

Ewing Grahame

Following this comprehensive, and thoroughly merited victory, the destination of the Scottish Premiership title is no longer a matter for debate.

Celtic are now 13 points clear of their nearest rivals, having played two matches fewer.

The question now is whether Neil Lennon's men can go through the entire campaign undefeated.

While they cannot equal Rangers' 100pc record from 1898/99 (played 18, won 18), the odds on them reaching May without suffering a reverse are reducing by the week.

Motherwell striker James McFadden certainly would not bet against such an outcome.

"Can they remain unbeaten?" he said. "There's still a long way to go in the season and it will be hard for them to maintain it every week, with the expectation levels that they win every game. I wouldn't be too surprised if they did it, but it could go either way."

The champions took the lead when Gunnar Nielsen could only parry a shot from Anthony Stokes and Kris Commons was first to the rebound.

Commons doubled his tally seven minutes from the interval when he converted the penalty kick awarded after Neilsen had brought down Stokes.

McFadden ought to have reduced the leeway in the 54th minute but the former Scotland star shot straight at Fraser Forster from point-blank range after an attempted clearance from Efe Ambrose had inadvertently created Motherwell's best opening.

Stokes then hit the crossbar with a dipping effort from 20 yards before former Celtic captain Stephen McManus made it 3-0 when he deflected a driven cross from James Forrest into his own net.

A rash and unnecessary lunge by Stokes on Motherwell captain Keith Lasley earned the Irishman a straight red card from referee Bobby Madden, but by then there was no way back for the visitors.

Lennon, who dismissed being linked with a move to Norwich City as "speculation", said afterwards: "The most pleasing stat is that we're unbeaten in 21 games. That shows great consistency.

Lennon acknowledged the part played in Celtic's fine run by Commons, who is in the form of his life. The Celtic boss, who will this week try to persuade Georgios Samaras, missing through injury on Saturday, to extend his contract at Parkhead which runs out in the summer, added:

"It's another two goals and he's up to 19 now, which, for a guy who is not a natural centre-forward, it's a wonderful contribution.

"He's the consummate professional and is really instrumental in the way we want to play."

As for Norwich, Lennon said: "It's just speculation. They won today and I'm delighted for Chris. I think he'll be safe for another while. He's doing a good job there, keeping them out of the bottom three.

"I cannot help the speculation, I'm flattered, but he's a good man and a good manager in that job so good luck to him."

Asked about his reported interest in Norwich forward Robert Snodgrass, Lennon replied: "There's nothing in that. I'm going to get linked with a lot of players but I'm not going to talk about players who are contracted to other clubs."

BATTLE

Stefan Johansen, the new £2m signing from Stromsgodset, watched from the stand as Celtic extended their undefeated league run to nine months and 25 matches and Charlie Mulgrew warned the Norwegian playmaker that he faces a battle merely to find a place in Lennon's starting 11.

"It's given us another lift," said midfielder Mulgrew. "The squad's strong and anyone who is added will only help things even more."

Motherwell have failed to score in their last 10 visits to Parkhead but they are the last team to have taken full points from the champions and showed in flashes that they are capable of once again finishing best of the rest.

Celtic, for their part, have now gone nine hours and 45 minutes since they last conceded a goal to domestic opposition.

Hibernian, fresh from a 3-2 home defeat to St Mirren, will now attempt to halt the juggernaut at Easter Road next weekend, with Celtic manager Lennon demanding no let-up from his players. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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