CELTIC..............................1 (Ciftci 14)

A solitary Nadir Ciftci goal enabled Celtic to leave Fir Park yesterday afternoon at the summit of the SPFL without ever having to break a sweat. By contrast, Mark McGhee, assuming his place in the Motherwell dug-out for this first game of his second spell as manager of the Lanarkshire club, may well have worked himself into quite a lather based on the work which clearly lies ahead.

A blanket of fog hung over the stadium as the game kicked off but by the time the sun had burned through it, McGhee would have been hard pushed to declare himself further enlightened. It was only in the final quarter of the game that his new charges found a degree of life about them, and that in itself owed much to Celtic’s own sloppiness after failing to hammer home the countless openings they had created in the game.

They got slightly better as the game went into the latter stages but by and large it was a soporific display from Motherwell. Craig Gordon did not muddy his gloves with one save throughout the entire game – a Kieran Kennedy effort in the second period that went wide of the target was the nearest the Fir Park side came to troubling the Celtic goalkeeper although Efe Ambrose sliced a pacey Josh Law cross over his own bar that may have caused a momentary note of panic in the Celtic dug-out.

Yet, while much of the 90 minutes would have made for uncomfortable viewing for McGhee, Ronny Deila had cause for frustration for different reasons. Celtic were rampant in the opening 45 minutes without ever turning the screw and pressing home their superiority. They would have had opportunity to twice extent their lead from the spot in the second period had referee Alan Muir spotted two infringements from Kennedy that he allowed to pass without sanction.

The first incident arose when Kennedy took Celtic captain Scott Brown out from behind as the midfielder went through on goal and the second when he used an arm to clearly punch away a Kris Commons header. Both could legitimately have resulted in the concession of penalties which irked Deila.

“It is a big deal, of course it’s a big deal,” said the Norwegian. “It was clear handball. I try to think that there is 38 games and you give and take and hopefully it is going to even out. I don’t speak so much with the referees. I said it was a penalty but what can I do? What can they do? I could threaten them but, no. I have no problem with referees here in Scotland but sometimes they make mistakes as well and today they did that. “

McGhee was far more spiky in his interpretation of the incidents, adopting a Nelsonian approach that Arsene Wenger would have been proud of.

“I really have no idea what you’re talking about,” he said. “Was there two penalties I missed? Was it 3-0? Or did they miss them both? Oh right, they weren’t given, I see. Look, you could go on all day talking about those sorts of things. There were fouls here and there.

“The fact is they got one goal and given the fact we lost it early doors it wasn’t a bad effort that we only lost 1-0. I don’t think 2-0 or 3-0 would have been fair. I think we put enough into the game to deserve some credit albeit Celtic probably deserved the three points.”

When Celtic had opened the scoring after just 14 minutes, McGhee would have had just cause to fear the worst. Ciftci pounced to net only his second goal for Celtic after a Commons effort had been parried by Motherwell goalkeeper Connor Ripley to net from close range and there was never any way back for Motherwell.

Stuart Armstrong began his first game since the end of August after a back injury interrupted his campaign while Brown, the subject of much concern pre-match about his fitness after twisting an ankle at Lennoxtown on Thursday morning, appeared to bear no ill-effects of the incident, prompting a gush of compliments from his manager in the aftermath of the 90 minutes he clocked up.

“I said to the players in the dressing room afterwards that he is a role model for what hard work is,” said Deila. “He was quite injured on Thursday and his ankle was very swollen but he puts his boots on and goes out there. He is a leader by performance and shows what the attitude should be.”

On this evidence, the plaudits look like they will be far harder for McGhee to find.

MOTHERWELL: (4-5-1) Ripley; Law, Kennedy, McManus, Chalmers; Laing, Johnson (Thomas 72), Grimshaw, Pearson, Fletcher (McDonald 66); Moult (Ainsworth 53). Subs: Samson, Lasley, Robinson, Leitch, McDonald.

Booked: McDonald, 78, foul on Ambrose.

CELTIC: Gordon; Ambrose, Boyata, Blackett, Izaguirre; Commons, Rogic, Brown, Bitton (McGregor 76), Armstrong (Mackay-Steven 67); Ciftci (Griffiths 60). Subs: Bailly, Stokes, Lustig, Tierney.

REFEREE: Alan Muir