Celtic remain top of the Premiership following a routine victory at home to Motherwell.
Odsonne Edouard slammed the champions in front when the ball broke his way in a busy penalty box.
The visitors improved after the break as Celtic’s tempo dipped but Richard Tait knocked in an own goal from a Jonny Hayes cross.
With Rangers winning by the same scoreline at Livingston, the champions stay ahead by a one-goal margin.
Neil Lennon’s men have now enjoyed seven successive wins in all competitions since losing at Livingston in early October, while this was a fourth clean sheet in a row in the league.
Motherwell, who sit fourth, were well-organised and aggressive, with Declan Gallagher a stand-out in defence during the first 45 minutes, but never threatened home goalkeeper Fraser Forster.
Stephen Robinson, the Motherwell manager, has been much talked about this week, the Northern Irishman being linked with not just one job or two jobs, but three jobs. He’s been mentioned in dispatches for the vacant positions at Hearts and Hibs and now that there’s an opening with his national team following on from Michael O’Neill getting the Stoke role he’s been linked with that position as well.
He brushed all that chat aside in the minutes before this game. Robinson, more than most, knows the scale of the challenge when you fetch up in the east end of Glasgow. He had enough on his plate without yakking about what life might be like on distant pastures.
Motherwell haven’t beaten Celtic in four years – in the time since they’ve shipped four goals twice, five goals three times and seven goals once – and as a good as their season has been so far nobody would have held out much hope for them bringing that run to an end here.
Back from Rome with a win over Lazio, a second victory in recent weeks against the Italians, the champions are flying right now. They might have taken a little while to hit their straps, but there was a sense of inevitability about it all.
The visitors shouldn’t be disheartened. They dug in. At no point did their spirits drop. They’re a confident team and they should move on from this quickly. They had one of the best players on the park in Gallagher, a centre-half who covered the ground wonderfully, who tackled and blocked and defended manfully. The fact that he was involved in the concession of the first goal was cruel on him. Gallagher was a big leader for Motherwell.
They had a few moments in attack – Allan Campbell had a back-post volley, Jake Carroll fizzed one across the six-yard box – but those moments have to stick when you’re playing a super confident Celtic.
Having scored the winner in Rome, Olivier Ntcham was impressive again in the heart of Celtic’s midfield. Up front, Edouard looked exactly what he is – a striker with great movement, a great touch, loads of intelligence and too much ruthlessness. Celtic weren’t at their free-flowing best but they were plenty good enough.
Edouard got the opener when Mohamed Elyounoussi cut in from the left and tried to link with James Forrest. Gallagher was on the scene and in trying to clear it he merely helped it on to Edouard who finished with aplomb, his swift execution soaring beyond Mark Gillespie.
Celtic continued to dominate possession and Motherwell continued to defend stoutly. Edouard fired over as did Elyounoussi. Hayes lashed one at Gillespie but the goalkeeper beat it away at his near post.
The second goal duly came early in the new half when Edouard played it wide to Hayes whose cross from the left was turned into his own net by Tait.
There was talk during the week that Leigh Griffiths might make a reappearance for this one, but there was no sign of him. Lennon said that his fitness is still a little off. Scott Sinclair was not in the squad either. Lewis Morgan was on the bench ahead of him. Mikey Johnston was absent as well. So many good players and yet so little need of them.
Ryan Christie started on the bench but came on in the second half just when Celtic’s threat started to grow again. Gillespie earned his corn in the latter stages. Christie had two efforts saved by the goalkeeper. Hayes put in a sumptuous cross that Ntcham came close to turning in. Jeremie Frimpong tested Gillespie twice while Edouard looked to have set up Ntcham only for the midfielder to direct his shot straight at the busy keeper.
Man of the match – Odsonne Edouard
Motherwell had two contenders in Gallagher and Gillespie. Hayes was excellent for Celtic, as was Ntcham. Edouard gets the award for scoring the first and displaying an all-round quality that marks him out as an outstanding footballer.