Celtic thrash Partick Thistle to secure Scottish Premiership title

Celtic thrash Glasgow rivals Partick Thistle 5-1 at Firhill to clinch their third successive Scottish Premiership title.

Celtic champions banner at Parkhead
Early birds: Celtic have claimed the earliest top-flight title in Scotland for 85 years (Picture from Sky Sports)

CELTIC are crowned champions of Scotland for the third successive season after thumping Glasgow neighbours Partick Thistle at Firhill.

Anthony Stokes got the party started inside three minutes and Liam Henderson doubled the lead early in the second half with his first goal for the club.

Stefan Johansen drilled home four minutes later before substitute Christie Elliott replied for the Jags, who sit just two points above eleventh-placed St Mirren.

But late goals from Georgios Samaras and Kris Commons added the gloss to round off a memorable night as the Hoops secured a 45th title with seven league games to spare in the continued absence of Old Firm rivals Rangers.

With the last two trophies claimed on 7 and 21 April respectively, it is the earliest the Scottish top flight has been secured since the Gers won on 16 March in season 1928-29.

It was business as usual for the Bhoys, who established an unassailable 26-point lead over second-placed Aberdeen after the Dons were held by Ross County on Tuesday night.

Neil Lennon, four years on from the day he took over from Tony Mowbray, won five league winners medals as a player and secured another as manager with relative ease.

The Celtic boss expected Thistle to be desperate to spoil the championship celebrations because “they are fighting for their lives” while Alan Archibald’s men had ran the runaway leaders close on two occasions this term, losing 2-1 in October before a 1-0 defeat at Celtic Park on New Year’s Day.

But with a determination to wrap up the division as soon as possible, the Hoops ran riot to make it four wins out of four since their only league defeat of the season at Pittodrie last month, scoring 16 and conceding just once.

Lennon made one change from Saturday’s 3-0 win over St Mirren, which took the Hoops past last season’s tally of 79 points, as Efe Ambrose returned in defence with Liam Henderson dropping to the bench and Charlie Mulgrew slotting into midfield.

Nir Biton and James Forrest were sidelined with groin injuries while Dutch winger Derk Boerrigter remained out with an abdomen problem.

Thistle were also one different from their 1-0 defeat to Inverness in the Highlands as Prince Buaben bolstered the midfield with striker Kris Doolan among the substitutes and former St Mirren stalwart Lee Mair overcame flu to retain his place in defence.

On-loan West Ham youngster George Moncur was again on the bench but Conrad Balatoni, Isaac Osbourne and Sean Welsh were still on the treatment table.

Following 13 games without a home win this term, the Jags were seeking a hat-trick of victories in Maryhill after beating Aberdeen and Hibernian, propelling them into eighth to ease their relegation play-off fears.

But the hosts pressed the self-destruct button inside three minutes as Celtic made the perfect start to get the title celebrations in full swing.

Advanced left-back Emilio Izaguirre cut inside onto his right foot and clipped a cross to the back post where Stokes pulled away to nod past Paul Gallacher with the freedom of the six-yard box for his 100th goal in Scottish football.

Captain Scott Brown’s curved centre was headed straight at the keeper by Leigh Griffiths and Stokes curled off target from 20 yards as the Hoops had an extra spring in their step.

A tough task for Thistle was made increasingly harder as they struggled to gain a foothold against the utterly dominant visitors, who bossed proceedings without creating chances to illustrate their superiority.

The relegation-threatened hosts finally settled after a quarter of an hour with a sustained spell of possession and were encouraged forward by their vocal supporters.

Kallum Higginbotham, with four goals in his previous five appearances, guided a free-kick into the side netting and on-loan Dundee United midfielder Chris Erskine almost stole in one-on-one with Fraser Forster after deceiving Ambrose.

Commons curled waywardly over the crossbar from a dead-ball after being knocked over just outside the box by Gabriel Piccolo while Griffiths ambitiously struck over the bar from distance as Celtic ended the first half on top.

Lennon was seemingly relaxed in his dugout seat but his side were in a precarious position at the interval and were forced into a reshuffle as a hamstring problem ended Adam Matthews’ evening prematurely with Liam Henderson entering the fray.

And the 17-year-old, a starter in the previous two games, made an instant impact by opening his Hoops account in his fourth first-team appearance.

An Izaguirre cross was dummied by both Commons and Griffiths which ran onto Henderson, who took one touch to steady himself before rifling into the bottom corner to double the lead on 49 minutes.

Celtic were in the comfort zone and soon in cruise control as Johansen ensured the champagne corks would be unscrewed before the night was out.

The Norwegian exchanged passes with Griffiths before driving into the box and drilling clinically into the net for his second goal in as many games, picking up a yellow card for his troubles as he dived into the Hoops fans housed in the Jackie Husband stand.

With two goals in four minutes, the champions had stepped up a gear but Thistle offered a decent response.

On-loan Sheffield United striker Lyle Taylor could not add to his five Thistle goals when slicing Taylor-Sinclair’s cross off target before nodding Buaben’s chipped centre into the gloves of Forster, who turned a swerving 25-yard drive from Gary Fraser around the post.

Forster, who had kept 16 clean sheets in his previous 17 games, had to stay firm to block a powerful shot from Jags full-back Stephen O’Donnell.

Buaben’s piledriver then struck the arm of Mulgrew although referee Steven McLean deemed the contact to be unintentional.

At the other end, Stokes was denied by Gallacher before the Irishman’s precise cross was tucked away by Griffiths from an offside position.

Steven Lawless replaced Higginbotham with 20 minutes to go while Beram Kayal was sent on for hamstring injury victim Mulgrew as Brown was forced to cover at right-back.

Celtic enjoyed a measure of control in the closing stages with the 2,500 away fans, singing “You’ll Never Walk Alone”, in fine voice.

Commons was close to adding a fourth when Henderson’s dangerous delivery was allowed to travel across the goalmouth and the Scotsman lifted over from three yards with the veteran Gallacher making the angle acute.

Another intricate move saw substitute Georgios Samaras, on for Griffiths, slide the ball into Stokes but his conversion was chalked off by the assistant referee.

And just 20 seconds later, Thistle reduced the arrears as Celtic conceded for just the 15th time in the Premiership this season.

Virgil van Dijk misjudged a downfield punt from Taylor-Sinclair and Christie Elliott, who stepped off the bench for the 17th time this term in place of Erskine, volleyed home his first goal since September in emphatic fashion.

The loss of a rare goal did not dampen Celtic’s spirit as two final flourishes capped off a resounding title-clincher, their first since the Premier League and Football League merged into the SPFL.

Samaras spun away from three Thistle players before dinking a pass to Stokes, who swivelled and planted a stunning effort into the top corner.

And top scorer Commons, the leading contender for Player of the Season, got in on the act by smashing Samaras’s pass through the legs of Gallacher for goal number 22 in the league this term.

It sparked wild scenes in the away end with several Celtic fans streaming onto the pitch before being restrained and ushered off by stewards.

The invasion denied the players the opportunity to embark on a lap of honour but they will mark the achievement on their homecoming against Ross County at the weekend.

Thistle, one of five teams involved in the scrap to avoid finishing second from bottom, travel to St Johnstone and host basement club Hearts before the split.

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