Scottish Premiership: Willie Collum to referee Motherwell v Rangers

Willie Collum will take charge of Saturday’s lunchtime encounter at Fir Park, with Bobby Madden appointed to Celtic’s televised match against Hearts on Sunday.

willie-collum-referee-albion-rovers-v-celtic-22nd-jan-2017
Solid: Collum issued just one yellow card and was on top of proceedings during Celtic’s 3-0 Scottish Cup win at Albion Rovers last weekend (Picture from Sky Sports)

WILLIE Collum will be the referee for Rangers’ televised Scottish Premiership match at Motherwell on Saturday.

The Euro 2016 official, who turned 38 last week, will be in the middle as the Gers make the trip to Fir Park for the lunchtime game live on Sky Sports (KO 12:45 GMT).

He will be assisted by David McGeachie and Gordon Crawford, with Euan Anderson on fourth official duties.

Collum – who won’t have far to travel from his Lanarkshire residence – will oversee his 29th game of the season in all competitions.

He has so far brandished 90 yellow cards, sent off five players and awarded nine penalties.

The Religious Education teacher will have no excuse for taking his eye off the ball after visiting a Specsavers store this week, in recognition of the partnership the opticians share with the Scottish FA.

It will be a 13th top-flight match of the campaign for Collum, who has handled a League Cup Final, two Scottish Cup Finals and the 2015 Uefa Super Cup.

The Glasgow-born whistler will control his fourth Rangers game of the campaign – and first of 2017 – after sending off Philippe Senderos in their 5-1 Old Firm derby defeat at Celtic in September before 1-0 victories at Inverness in October and home to Dundee in November.

Meanwhile, Collum will be in the middle for a third Motherwell match of 2016-17 after their 4-2 derby win over Hamilton in September – in which he awarded the Steelmen a spotkick – and 1-1 draw at St Johnstone last month.

It will be the third time he takes charge of a fixture involving the two sides – after Rangers’ 2-1 win in a League Cup semi-final at Hampden in 2011 and a goalless draw at Ibrox in the league in 2012, both of which passed without major incident.

Mark Warburton’s second-placed Rangers will be looking to extend the gap over Aberdeen in third, which currently stands at two points, while Mark McGhee’s Motherwell could move into the top six with a first top-flight win over the Gers since December 2002.

The sides met as recently as last weekend as Kenny Miller scored twice for Rangers, who came from behind to beat the Steelmen in their Scottish Cup fourth round tie at Ibrox.


Madden gets another top-flight test

Bobby Madden in action
Well-known: Madden has established himself as a referee domestically in the Scottish top-flight and on the European stage in the Europa League (Picture from Sky Sports)

Bobby Madden will take charge of Celtic’s televised encounter with Hearts on Sunday.

The 38-year-old will be in the middle when the champions host the Jambos at Parkhead in front of the Sky cameras (KO 13:00 GMT).

His assistants will be Graham Chambers and Stephen Mitchell, while Greg Aitken will be on fourth official duties.

Madden was also in the middle for a 3-1 Celtic win over Hearts last season in his only other experience of a fixture between the sides.

He enjoyed a largely quiet display but booked six players and sent off Hearts defender Juwon Oshaniwa late on for a second yellow card.

It will only be the 18th game Madden will have officiated this season, after missing two months as he bravely battled thyroid cancer.

Overall, he has dished out 48 yellow cards, two red cards and pointed to the penalty spot 11 times in his 17 matches so far.

The East Kilbride whistler, who was an additional assistant referee at Euro 2016, will handle his third Celtic game of the campaign after their 4-1 win over 10-man Aberdeen in August and 2-1 success against Dundee in December – both also at Celtic Park.

His only Hearts match so far was their 3-0 victory over Motherwell at Tynecastle in November – in which only two players were cautioned.

Madden’s biggest career honour to date came in Celtic’s 2-0 win over 10-man Dundee United in the 2015 League Cup showpiece at Hampden Park.

Both sides were in action in midweek – with Hearts beating Raith Rovers 4-2 after extra time in a Scottish Cup replay, while Celtic edged past St Johnstone 1-0 in their game in hand in the league.

You can see the rest of the SPFL appointments for this weekend here.

Ugly scenes overshadow Motherwell play-off win

Rangers defender Bilel Mohsni punched and kicked Motherwell striker Lee Erwin as unsavoury scenes broke out after the Steelmen’s 3-0 win at Fir Park which retained their Scottish Premiership status.

Lee Erwin
Taking a battering: Motherwell’s Erwin had blood on his face when interviewed after the events with Mohsni (Picture from BT Sport)

Rangers defender Bilel Mohsni punched and kicked Motherwell striker Lee Erwin as unsavoury scenes broke out after the Steelmen’s 3-0 win at Fir Park which retained their Scottish Premiership status.

BT Sport cameras showed 21-year-old Erwin approached Mohsni following the final whistle to shake hands but the Tunisian centre-back apparently told him to “f*** off”.

Erwin then shoved Mohsni, who reacted by physically attacking his opponent before officials intervened.

The brawl resulted in red cards being issued by referee Craig Thomson in the dressing rooms for Erwin, Mohsni and Motherwell’s unused substitute Fraser Kerr, who got involved with Mohsni as the melee between both sets of players ensued.

Motherwell fans also flocked onto the pitch and ran towards the Rangers supporters – most of which had already left – to gloat about the result.

Stewards and police officers eventually ushered them away while mounted police directed supporters back into the stands.

Motherwell fans
Invasion: Motherwell supporters rushed onto the pitch as the incident between Mohsni and Erwin took place (Picture from BT Sport)

Mohsni lashed out at Erwin, leaving him with a wound on his face which was visible when he re-emerged with the rest of the Motherwell players for their lap of honour to say goodbye to the fans.

Mohsni continued to act violently as players and coaching staff tried to restrain him and as he walked down the tunnel where it is understood there were further exchanges with McCall also believed to have spoken to a Motherwell fan shouting at Mohsni.

It is also reported that Mohsni had to be restrained from leaving the Rangers bus afterwards to have another confrontation with Erwin.

The Motherwell forward described Mohsni’s actions as “embarrassing for him and the club” in an interview with BT Sport afterwards.

He said: “I tried to shake Mohsni’s hand to wish him all the best but he told me to ‘f*** off’. I pushed him away and he reacted badly.

“A player at a club at that level shouldn’t be acting like that. It’s embarrassing for him and the club. But I wish him all the best.”

Mohsni, though, has defended his actions and said Erwin made him fear for his own safety, calling the Motherwell player ‘a coward’.

“What do you call someone who attacks you from behind? A coward. I was worried about my security so I did the only thing I could,” Mohsni said.

“He says I swore at him. I never swore. My mum used to say to me that when you swear at someone it is like you want to fight with them. She educated me properly.”

Bilel Mohsni sent off by Mark Heywood in pre-season friendly at Derby (July 2014)
Poor discipline: Mohsni is no stranger to a red card (pictured being sent off in a pre-season friendly against Derby County last summer)

Police Scotland will also investigate the fight by reviewing footage and liaising with both clubs in the coming days, assistant chief constable Bernard Higgins has confirmed.

Rangers have confirmed they will fully co-operate with the investigation.

“Bilel Mohsni’s behaviour was completely unacceptable and had his contract not now expired, the club would have started disciplinary proceedings,” Rangers said in a statement.

“The club will also assist with any investigation into the behaviour of Motherwell supporters and we would like to thank the Rangers fans who were excellent in showing admirable restraint despite severe provocation.”

Rangers manager Stuart McCall said he missed the incident but acknowledged such behaviour was “unacceptable” and “disgraceful”.

Disaster: It was a chastening afternoon for Stuart McCall and his assistant Kenny Black on their return to north Lanarkshire (Picture from BT Sport)
Disaster: It was a chastening afternoon for Stuart McCall and his assistant Kenny Black on their return to north Lanarkshire (Picture from BT Sport)

McCall also suggested that if Mohsni – whose contract expires next month – had acted in such an aggressive manner that he would not be at the club next term although his own future is also in doubt.

Motherwell boss Ian Baraclough described it as “an outpouring of emotions which has gone too far” and said that “Scottish football doesn’t need it”.

“The two games were played in a decent spirit and to have that at the end just has no place in this game at all,” he added.

Both clubs are likely to be heavily censured by the SFA with the SPFL also likely to take further action against Motherwell after Rangers captain Lee McCulloch was struck on the face with a flag by a supporter and a flare was thrown onto the pitch after the first goal was scored.

Flare thrown onto the pitch
Extinguish: Stewards moved quickly to put out the flare after it was thrown onto the pitch (Picture from BT Sport)

Motherwell extended their 30-year stay in Scotland’s top-flight by completing a comfortable 6-1 aggregate win to deny Rangers a third successive promotion.

Marvin Johnson broke the deadlock on 51 minutes as his shot took a wicked deflection off Marius Zaliukas and found the net after a howler from Gers goalkeeper Cammy Bell.

Lionel Ainsworth doubled the lead with another deflected strike 20 minutes from time and substitute John Sutton stroked home from the penalty spot in stoppage time as the Steelmen guaranteed their survival in style.

Motherwell players on the pitch
Appreciation: Motherwell players came back onto the pitch to celebrate with the fans and their children (Picture from BT Sport)

Motherwell retain Premiership status to deny Rangers third promotion

Motherwell extended their 30-year stay in the top-flight and consigned Rangers to a second season in the Championship with a second-leg victory in the Scottish Premiership play-off final.

  •  Motherwell retain top-flight status they have held since 1984-85
  •  Rangers stay in the Championship and have not played in Premiership since 2012
  •  Marvin Johnson, Lionel Ainsworth and John Sutton seal 3-0 second leg win for ‘Well
  •  Stuart McCall suffers disappointing defeat on first return to Fir Park 
  •  Ugly scenes at full-time as Rangers’ Mohsni clashes with Motherwell’s Erwin
Players
Ready for battle: The players emerged from the tunnel but it was Motherwell who demonstrated the gulf in class against their Championship opponents (Picture from BT Sport)

Motherwell extended their 30-year stay in the top-flight and consigned Rangers to a second season in the Championship with an assured second-leg victory in the Scottish Premiership play-off final.

Leading 3-1 from the first leg at Ibrox, deflected goals from lively wingers Marvin Johnson and Lionel Ainsworth and a late penalty from substitute John Sutton cemented a comfortable aggregate triumph for the Steelmen.

Their experience, discipline and – most importantly – quality prevailed on a blustery afternoon as Ian Baraclough’s men preserved their Premiership status after finishing second-bottom in the table to avoid going down with St Mirren.

Johnson’s speculative effort flicked off Marius Zaliukas and spun over the grasp of Cammy Bell whose attempted punch went badly wrong six minutes after the break for a goal of bizarre proportions.

Ainsworth doubled their advantage with 20 minutes remaining as his low effort squirmed off Zaliukas and past a despairing Bell as the Steelmen earned only their second win over Rangers in the past 40 meetings and stretched their unbeaten home record to eight games.

Stuart McCall on sidelines
Record: The former Rangers midfielder has won seven of his 17 games in charge since replacing Kenny McDowall in the hotseat (Picture from BT Sport)

Rangers had won on their four previous visits to Fir Park but could not conclude the Scottish domestic campaign with a third successive promotion to join Hearts in next season’s top-flight.

It was a sixth play-off game in 22 days for Rangers who beat Queen of the South 3-2 on aggregate in the quarter-finals and overcame Hibernian 2-1 over two legs in the semi-finals after their third-place finish in the Championship.

Their failure to complete the job at the first time of asking leaves the future of Stuart McCall, who made his first return to north Lanarkshire since resigning as Motherwell boss in December after five years in charge, rather uncertain with talks set to take place in the coming weeks.

Stephen Pearson in Motherwell dressing room
Doubtful: Pearson’s participation was seemingly unlikely after his pre-match warm-up was cut short with a groin problem (Picture from BT Sport)

His successor Baraclough named an unchanged line-up with Stephen Pearson and Stevie Hammell both passed fit following injury concerns.

McCall made three alterations from Thursday night as captain Lee McCulloch came into a back three against the team he began his career with to replace the suspended first-leg scorer Darren McGregor while Kris Boyd was recalled in attack and Shane Ferguson made his first start since joining on loan from Newcastle in January as Dean Shiels and Nicky Clark dropped to the bench.

Kris Boyd
Possible farewell: The former Scotland striker could have figured for the final time in a Rangers shirt (Picture from BT Sport)

Rangers were on the front foot in the opening exchanges as Kris Boyd headed Shane Ferguson’s cross straight at George Long and then slashed a half volley off target following a misplaced header by Louis Laing.

The moderate pressure forced Motherwell to defend desperately at times but Rangers lacked the decisive instinct in the final third to capitalise on the hosts’ early nerves.

It was a relatively calm opening considering the occasion with Gers doing much of the pressing and bossing possession as Ferguson and Richard Foster progressed forward from their wing-back positions to supplement the attack.

But tempers frayed midway through the first half when Marius Zaliukas appeared to thrust his head towards Stephen Pearson after a penalty-box melee which went unseen by the officials.

In a separate incident on the sidelines, Lee McCulloch was struck in the face with the end of a flag by a Motherwell supporter in the East Stand when trying to retrieve the ball for a throw-in that was dealt with by stewards.

Haris Vuckic was then shown a yellow card for what referee Craig Thomson thought was a dive when the on-loan Newcastle midfielder went over the outstretched leg of Stephen McManus just outside the box.

Vuckic dive
Taking a tumble: Vuckic felt there was contact with McManus and Rangers should have had a free-kick but Craig Thomson disagreed (Picture from BT Sport)

The scrappy and tetchy nature suited Motherwell but, despite the best efforts of Lee Erwin and Scott McDonald to make an impact, the Steelmen struggled to provide a threat and trouble the Gers defence with goalkeeper Cammy Bell largely a spectator.

The closest they came was through the counter-attacking pace which was effective in the first leg with Lionel Ainsworth again the catalyst, the winger delivering a dangerous low cross for McDonald which was turned behind by Foster.

Indeed, the hosts ended the first period strongly amid mixed weather conditions as Erwin – with five goals in his previous eight starts – flashed a fierce effort wide of the post as the Gers failed to clear their lines from a corner.

Lee Erwin
Breakthrough talent: The 21-year-old striker ended his first full season in Motherwell’s senior team with six goals in 37 appearances in all competitions (Picture from BT Sport)

Marvin Johnson was also inches away from his first Motherwell goal since joining on loan in January from Kidderminster Harriers when whistling a shot inches wide before his free-kick was glanced wide by the head of McManus.

But the Gers, with midfielder Nicky Law the driving force against his former club, should have gone ahead immediately before the break when Ferguson’s corner was inadvertently flicked on by ‘Well skipper Keith Lasley and Zaliukas sidefooted over from close range.

The tension only increased after the interval amid a frantic tempo at both ends as the challenges continued to fly in at a varying rate of knots.

However, the picture became clearer as Motherwell made the breakthrough to increase their healthy lead on aggregate and send their supporters into raptures.

The goal came in extremely fortuitous circumstances with Johnson’s shot taking a wicked deflection off Zaliukas before looping over Bell, who only helped the ball into the net as he backpedalled.

It left Rangers requiring a minimum of three goals to overturn the tie but the visitors did not give up hope as McCall made quick-fire changes with teenage midfielder Tom Walsh and striker Nicky Clark replacing Ferguson and Boyd.

Vuckic curled an effort straight at Long and his drilled cross was almost diverted into his own net by Josh Law.

But another cruel deflection undid the Gers to add further gloss to Motherwell’s advantage as Johnson surged forward before finding Ainsworth, whose low shot took a nick off Zaliukas which wrongfooted a disconsolate Bell.

It prompted vocal chants of ‘we are staying up’ from the exultant home faithful and, in contrast, a mass exodus from the 1,500 travelling Rangers supporters.

The damage might have worsened for the Gers had Bell not reacted superbly to deny Motherwell’s top scorer John Sutton, who came off the bench to replace Ainsworth.

And with the last kick of the game, Sutton converted from the penalty spot after the striker was bundled to the ground by Lee Wallace.

Ian Baraclough taking notes
Mission accomplished: Former Scunthorpe defender Ian Baraclough, 44, has steered Motherwell to Premiership safety (Picture from BT Sport)

Within seconds of the final whistle, ugly scenes broke out with an angry and violent altercation taking place between Rangers defender Bilel Mohsni and Motherwell’s Lee Erwin during which punches and kicks appeared to be thrown.

It was later confirmed that three red cards were handed out to Mohsni, Erwin and Motherwell’s unused substitute Fraser Kerr, who got involved in the incident as the aftermath continued as the players went down the tunnel.

Motherwell fans also invaded the pitch to celebrate with some taunting the Gers supporters before police and stewards intervened.

But the sense of relief and joy around Fir Park was palpable as the Steelmen retained their place in Scotland’s top division while the Glasgow side contemplate and rebuild for another mammoth campaign in the second tier.

Motherwell players on the pitch
Parade: The Motherwell players and their children posed for the cameras when returning to the pitch for their lap of honour (Picture from BT Sport)

 

TEAMS:

Motherwell team

Substitutes:  Grant (on for Pearson 74′), Sutton (on for Ainsworth 76′), Ramsden (on for Johnson 84′)

Booked:  McDonald (51′)

Goals:  Johnson (52′), Ainsworth (70′), Sutton (90+3′ pen)

 

Rangers team

Substitutes:  Walsh (on for Ferguson 55′), Clark (on for Boyd 59′), Mohsni (on for Zaliukas 72′).

Booked:  Murdoch (26′), Vuckic (38′), McCulloch (40′), Foster (81′)

 

Craig Thomson referee (Inverness CT v Celtic - 11th April 2015)

Referee:  Craig Thomson (Scotland) – 7/10
Attendance:  9,220

 

Ian Baraclough becomes McCall’s Motherwell successor

Ian Baraclough has been appointed as the new Motherwell manager, replacing Stuart McCall in the Fir Park hotseat.

Former boss: Motherwell have found their replacement for Stuart McCall, who brought plenty of success to Fir Park
Former boss: Motherwell have found their replacement for Stuart McCall, who brought plenty of success to Fir Park (Picture from Sky Sports)

AFTER over a month of searching and sifting through more than 50 applications, Motherwell have finally found the man to replace Stuart McCall.

Ian Baraclough may be an unknown quantity to many supporters but the former Scunthorpe player has been tasked with changing the ailing fortunes in north Lanarkshire.

The former Sligo Rovers boss guided the Irish club into the Champions League and won three major honours during a two-and-a-half year stint – including their first league title in 35 years in 2012 – before the axe was wielded in the summer.

Whether the 44-year-old, who had been working as a scout at Huddersfield since then, can arrest the Steelmen’s alarming slide towards the relegation mire in the Scottish Premiership remains to be seen.

But his optimism reached no boundaries during his first media address in the post – saying there is no reason why Motherwell cannot win trophies or even challenge Celtic for the title.

He told the club’s website: “I want to win trophies. Why not Motherwell Football Club? Why can’t we win the Premiership?”

“You’ve got to go out with that thinking otherwise you won’t achieve anything. To have days out in the cup are great for fans, but they are important.

“It’s a way into Europe and I’ve been used to that and want more of it, as I’m sure the fans do too.

“Short term my aim is to keep this club in the Premiership. There is no easy way to go about that and it is a situation that hasn’t been at this football club in a few years but it doesn’t scare me.”

Following a thorough selection process in which 58 candidates declared their interest – six of which were interviewed – it is Baraclough who impressed the most and has been given the opportunity to show his credentials.

Terry Butcher – who guided ‘Well to the 2005 Scottish League Cup final – pulled the plug on his consideration for the post earlier this week while former Kilmarnock boss Kenny Shiels – who resigned from his post at Morton in May – was mentioned.

Dutchmen Mitchell van der Gaag and Rob Maaskant, both former Motherwell players in the 1990s, were also candidates.

Motherwell caretaker boss Kenny Black (v Celtic - 6th Dec 14)
Experienced: The 51-year-old former Airdrie boss has lost three of his four games in caretaker boss against Dundee United, Inverness and Celtic (Picture from Sky Sports)

Even caretaker boss Kenny Black – McCall’s assistant for four years – was in the pipeline after taking over the reins during a difficult period.

It is still unconfirmed whether he will remain at Fir Park and in what capacity but he will be at the helm for this afternoon’s must-win encounter against bottom club Ross County – his fifth and final match in charge.

Motherwell director Derek Weir at Fir Park (6th Dec 2014)
In the driving seat: Weir and fellow boardroom members made the call to bring in Baraclough (Picture from Sky Sports)

Motherwell director Derek Weir told Sky Sports last Saturday before the Celtic defeat that he hoped a new manager would be in place for this weekend – and, by the skin of their teeth, they have kept to their word.

Baraclough will be an observer from the stands as he prepares to inherit a side lacking in confidence and goals – lying 10th in the top-flight and in dire straits after back-to-back second-placed finishes.

The former Glanford Park caretaker manager has his work cut out and has tough shoes to fill following the success of McCall, who resigned at the start of November following a run of five consecutive defeats.

Motherwell have had some famous faces in the managerial hotseat in the past, including former Scotland bosses Alec McLeish and Craig Brown.

Time will tell if Baraclough can allure himself to the Motherwell faithful and prove his place in history by guiding the struggling Steelmen back up the table – where they feel they belong.

Calum Murray to ref Motherwell v Celtic

EXPERIENCED referee Calum Murray will be the man at the helm when Scottish Premiership champions Celtic travel to Motherwell this Saturday lunchtime.

Calum Murray referee

CALUM Murray will be the man in the middle for Saturday’s Scottish Premiership early kick-off between Motherwell and Celtic.

The 47-year-old will be the referee at Fir Park for the televised clash – live on Sky Sports – between managerless ‘Well and the champions (KO 12:45).

He will be assisted by linesmen Graeme Leslie and Gary Hilland while the fourth official will be John McKendrick.

The experienced Edinburgh-based whistler has already been appointed to Inverness against St Mirren in Tuesday night’s Scottish Cup fourth round replay.

The systems developer – who is the oldest match official in Scotland – will oversee his 18th game of the season in all competitions in north Lanarkshire this weekend.

In his 16 so far, he has handed out 55 yellow cards and sent off two players, while awarding three penalties.

It will be the first time Murray will encounter Ronny Deila’s Celtic this term while he took charge of Motherwell’s 1-0 win over St Mirren on the opening weekend.

He has been officiating in the Scottish top-flight since 2000 and was a Fifa referee for eight years until reaching the mandatory retirement age in 2013.

His only major final was the 2009 Ramsdens Cup Final at St Johnstone’s McDiarmid Park when Airdrie beat Ross County on penalties.

Stuart McCall’s belief resonates through Motherwell

Motherwell continue to defy expectation under Stuart McCall’s shrewd management with a point which could have been three against the seemingly invincible champions Celtic.

At a loss: Chris Humphrey (left) and Michael Higdon (right) were key performers for Motherwell last season but left for pastures new last summer
At a loss: Chris Humphrey (left) and Michael Higdon (right) were key performers for Motherwell last season but left for pastures new last summer

COMING from behind to snatch a point in stoppage time against the champions is a sensational result for a Motherwell side who continue to punch above their weight.

An absorbing contest in the Fir Park sunshine ended in a six-goal thriller that blew the race for second place in the Scottish Premiership wide open and exemplified just why the Steelmen are right in the thick of it.

Six first-team regulars may have been absent but it did not stop ‘Well from replicating a feat only AC Milan and Barcelona have managed this term – score three times in 90 minutes against Celtic.

The sprit and endeavour shown throughout typified the character and belief of their candid manager Stuart McCall, who continues to work wonders on a shoestring budget.

The former Rangers striker has plenty of football knowledge, he does his homework, he reads up on opponents and watches them in action weeks in advance.

Recovering from losing their top three scorers from last season was always going to be difficult but his shrewd methods of rebuilding with free transfers have come up trumps again.

It is no coincidence that Gordon Strachan handpicked McCall to be part of his Scotland coaching staff and Sheffield United came calling for his services when things went wrong for David Weir earlier in the season.

McCall’s honesty and wisdom shines through on his players in the shape of commitment and desire. The pictures from the home dressing room at half-time spoke volumes.

While Celtic players were stood on the pitch for four minutes with the stern words of Lennon ringing in their ears, McCall issued instructions with a measure of composure and persistently drilled the message to his players with the help of the tactics board.

The Steelmen went toe to toe with the best team in Scotland and could have emerged with a third win in the last four home games against Neil Lennon’s men on another day.

McCall’s tactical nouse was key to overcoming the Hoops twice last term, being brave in his system and taking risks when falling behind in both games.

Michael Higdon was the hero in their memorable victories last February and April and John Sutton, like he has done with his goalscoring feats all season, stepped into the breach.

The former Hearts frontman was a thorn in the side of a Hoops defence which has been solid all season but looked unsettled from the word go.

Lennon will bemoan some of his side’s defending as Efe Ambrose was bullied by the physical presence of Sutton and undone by the long ball in behind while Emilio Izaguirre caught out of position on numerous occasions.

Sutton simply did not give up on chasing down Craig Reid’s toss forward when Ambrose allowed it to sail over his head in the fourth minute.

The blame was apportioned with Fraser Forster, whose bearings were exposed when the weak effort slithered beyond his grasp.

Ambrose was particularly vulnerable, receiving an innocuous whack in the face from team-mate van Dijk for his troubles. But if it had the intention of giving him a wake-up call, it didn’t have the desired effect when at fault for the second goal.

It was almost a case of deja vu as van Dijk was static from Steven Hammell’s lofted ball and the defence could not regain their action stations.

Zaine Francis-Angol got his rewards for taking a gamble, continuing his burst into the box as the ricochet of Izaguirre fell into his path.

The two-goal cushion was the least that Motherwell deserved for their endeavour in the first half.

After throwing away a two-goal lead a fortnight ago at St Mirren, McCall was desperate to avoid another defeat and would have taken note of the way Celtic ran out comfortable winners at Tannadice by starting on the front foot and dominating possession.

The change of shape to a three-man defence was partly enforced as a result of the deepening injury crisis but made the middle of the park extremely compact.

In the absence of suspended skipper Keith Lasley, 18-year-old Jack Leitch was outstanding

Celtic came unstuck at Fir Park twice in 2012/13 and were heading down the same route but the worry for McCall was, when performing at a lacklustre level, their unrivalled ability to reach another gear can prove deadly.

On a day of drama in North Lanarkshire, the point could be crucial in the battle with Aberdeen and Dundee United.

The trip to Tannadice comes next week with the League Cup winners lying in wait in a potential winner-takes-all bout at Pittodrie on the final day.

Taking their financial constraints into account, a third consecutive European qualification would be a remarkable achievement for the Steelmen.

They may still have work to do and the odds might be against them but the humble presence and calming influence of McCall will ensure Motherwell will fight until the very end.

 

Michael Higdon celebrates against Celtic Image via Creative Commons License

Celtic’s Commons plays through illness in Motherwell win

Top scorer Kris Commons admits to lifting himself from his sickbed to score twice in Celtic’s 5-0 dismantling of Motherwell at Fir Park.

Kris Commons (Celtic midfielder on Sky Sports at Tannadice - 8th March 2015)
Sparkling form: Commons continued his scoring spree against Motherwell at Fir Park (Picture from Sky Sports)

TOP scorer Kris Commons has revealed he played through illness to star in Celtic’s clinical 5-0 victory over Motherwell at Fir Park.

The midfielder followed up his hat-trick in the 7-0 Scottish Cup triumph over Hearts last weekend by scoring twice as the Scottish Premiership leaders, still reeling from last week’s European exit, moved eight points clear at the top.

The Scottish international, who took his tally to 13 goals this season in all competitions, told BBC Scotland: “I’ve been laid up in bed all day. I’ve not been too well. I think at the minute we are in a very ruthless mode.”

Commons opened the scoring against the third-placed Steelmen late in the first half before Efe Ambrose doubled the lead in the 54th minute with a header from Charlie Mulgrew’s corner.

Anthony Stokes netted his first goal in two months after Commons bagged the third before substitute Bahrudin Atajic replaced him to open his Celtic account in the closing stages and round off the comprehensive win.

And 31-year-old Commons said: “I’ve been a bit flued up so I was happy to come off as I was looking up at the clock after 70 minutes ready for another oxygen tank.

“So it was nice for Bahrudin to have that kind of impact, get on the field, play with the big boys and get his goal.”

Manager Neil Lennon was also full of praise for Commons, who has scored seven goals in his last four domestic games.

“Sometimes I take him for granted but he’s a special player. For the money we paid for him, he’s been a real steal. He’s getting better all the time,” he said.

“I think there is more to come from him in terms of his general play but as a goalscorer and value for money, he’s been one of my best signings and one of the best we have had at the club for a long time. He is a sensational player and long may it continue.”

Neil Lennon as Celtic manager in pre-season (20th July 2013)
Impressive: Celtic boss Neil Lennon was pleased with Kris Commons’ display in the 5-0 victory over Motherwell

Celtic are already confirmed to finish bottom of Champions League Group H ahead of their final match against Barcelona at the Nou Camp on Wednesday night, with Commons admitting: “If we were playing at this level consistently in the Champions League, you never know where it might take us.

“But that is done and dusted now and we must concentrate on next year and the only way we get in that environment next year is winning the league and we’re trying to do that convincingly this year.”

The Hoops lost twice at Fir Park last season in February and April but former Derby playmaker Commons was pleased with the impressive goalscoring display from his team-mates in the wintry north Lanarkshire conditions on Friday night.

“I was looking at a few clips of previous games here and we do sometimes struggle but we carried our form on from the Hearts game. We’re not happy at winning by two or three, we want to go on and get five or six,” he added.

The defending champions are unbeaten in the league after 14 games, winning 11 and drawing three.

And when being asked if Celtic can continue undefeated until the end of the season, Commons replied: “There’s a lot of talk about it but it’s extremely difficult.

“There are a lot of places away from home where you’ve got to play well but at the minute we are going to the difficult places like Motherwell and Hearts and putting on performances.”