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Motherwell 3 Celtic 3: Familiar story with great result, but plaudits in short supply

EVEN when Motherwell come back from the dead to eke out a result of which to be proud, it appears praise must remain in short supply.

Craig Reid of Motherwell is taken out by Celtic's Stefan Johansen at Fir Park on Saturday. Picture: SNS
Craig Reid of Motherwell is taken out by Celtic's Stefan Johansen at Fir Park on Saturday. Picture: SNS

Neil Lennon, the Celtic manager, spoke after John Sutton had equalised in stoppage time with his second goal of the game and 21st of the season, saying his Lanarkshire hosts had "one attack, really, and scoring from it" in the second half.

It was rather an odd comment considering Beram Kayal, for example, had cleared a Sutton header off the line on 54 minutes, Fraser Forster had almost been caught out by a corner from Iain Vigurs before saving from Henri Anier and visiting striker Georgios Samaras had appeared to control a cross from Zaine Francis-Angol with his hand in his own area with the game tied at 2-2.

Celtic's Stefan Johansen gave the fleeting impression he was about to offer a rather more conciliatory appraisal of events before brandishing the stiletto and filleting Stuart McCall and his players over the way they approached the match. "Motherwell are a good team and all respect to them, but I don't like the way they play," said the frank Norwegian.

"They are at their home ground and they have 11 guys 20 or 30 metres back. That's not my type of football, but all credit to them because they succeeded with that against us."

Should Motherwell feel a little bruised by such a harsh critique, there are some things that ought to offer succour. Over and above being only the third team this season to score three times in a game against Celtic - alongside AC Milan and Barcelona - they are now only two points shy of equalling the 63-point total they boasted in finishing second in the league last season.

This, despite being weakened by a host of summer departures. The players brought in on a budget tighter than a bodybuilder's budgie smugglers lack the same star quality, but have managed to weld themselves into a cohesive unit and are perhaps surpassing even their own expectations by maintaining their push for a second-place finish again.

It is not altogether difficult to appreciate why they may be existing largely under the radar. Dundee United, for example, have a number of young players of evident quality within their ranks and, as a nation, we always get ridiculously excited about anyone who looks as though they might be destined for something a little more glamorous than this dreadfully limited arena. "We are now a goal ahead of Dundee United and they are seen as free-scoring," remarked McCall, a little pointedly.

Anier, the Estonian forward brought to Fir Park on an initial short-term loan deal as the team was being patched together last summer, gives the impression he is perfectly content with the relative lack of attention being paid to those within his dressing room. "Maybe we are a little bit undervalued," he said.

"I've heard a lot about Aberdeen and Dundee United, but not really a lot about us. That could be a good thing, keeping things quiet and just showing what we can do by where we finish at the end of the season. I'm still confident we can finish second."

Sutton, in spite of his heroics, failed to earn a nomination for the Cheque Centre/PFA Scotland player of the year award, voted for by his fellow professionals.

Simply playing every week, mind you, must be reward enough for the 30-year-old following a ludicrous spell at his previous club Hearts, in which then-manager John McGlynn believed a raw teenager in Callum Paterson, a right-back by trade, was a better bet at centre-forward. Time has shown that judgment in its true light. "John should be regarded one of the best in the country," said his partner Anier.

Of course, Celtic should have won this game after coming back from two first-half goals gifted to Sutton and Francis-Angol through some appalling defending. With Kris Commons having seen a penalty expertly saved by Gunnar Nielsen, Anthony Stokes got them back into it with a deft chip that might well have been a cross and efforts from Samaras and substitute Leigh Griffiths, booked for his celebrations, in a far more professional second period had them in front with five minutes left.

The visitors' defensive unit was abnormally fragile throughout, though, and conceded in the dying moments when Emilio Izaguirre was caught out by a clever pass from Craig Reid and Lionel Ainsworth put a ball to the back post that Sutton slid in to convert.

"The first half was pretty bad all over but, in the second half, we controlled the game, as we usually do," said Johansen. "I wasn't good in the first half either but, for me, it is not hard to be motivated as I want to earn my right to play in the team."

Motivation is no issue for Motherwell. Write off this lot at your peril.

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