DESPITE their own best efforts at times, Celtic managed to get the crucial win they needed against Motherwell to put themselves back on top of the Scottish Premiership, and quell any potential murmurings that Ange Postecoglou’s juggernaut may have been slipping just a little off the rails following the defeat at St Mirren last time out.

But boy, they made hard work of it.

It had looked as though it would be a serene afternoon for the Celtic Park faithful when Kyogo blasted them in front from a matter of inches early on, but a calamitous own goal from Josip Juranovic dragged Motherwell level, and brought about a change in the mood music around the stadium.

Suddenly, nerves in the stands cascaded down onto the field, and with passes going astray and the visitors digging in, it looked as though it would be a long old second half for Postecoglou and his men.

It helps in such situation though when you have a player with the talent of Reo Hatate. The Japanese midfielder has been in scintillating form this season, and it was his cannon of a right foot that didn’t so much break down Motherwell’s resistance as blast through it, giving Liam Kelly no chance with a brilliant strike from the edge of the area.

It was enough to get the three points, but Callum McGregor had to take one for the team late on as Hatate almost went from hero to zero, Ross Tierney latching onto his slack pass and forcing the Celtic captain to haul him down to prevent the goalscoring opportunity and pick up a straight red card.

It was late enough not to make too much of a difference, and you could hardly argue that Celtic didn’t deserve the three points over the piece. But it was an afternoon that was a whole lot nervier than it should have been, and one that failed to really shake off the doubts that had crept in about Celtic’s current level of performance.

Postecoglou was again without his first-choice centre-back pairing of Cameron Carter-Vickers and Carl Starfelt, with neither Moritz Jenz or Stephen Welsh making much of a case here to upset that partnership once they are both fit.

At the other end though, they remain potent. When the breakthrough came it was a goal simple in its construction. Barry Maguire was slack in possession for the visitors, allowing McGregor to burst forward and feed the ball to Jota on the left.

The winger clipped the ball in and found Matt O’Riley arriving in acres of space to head at Kelly from point-blank range. The Motherwell keeper got something on the ball, but couldn’t stop it from trickling towards the line before Kyogo arrived to blast in, just to make sure.

It was threatening to get a bit messy for Stevie Hammell’s men in the aftermath of that opener, with Daizen Maeda almost getting in down the right and McGregor firing over from a great position inside the area.

Motherwell had offered next to nothing since a bright opening, but they had a great opportunity when Celtic were slack in possession themselves, Dean Cornelius nodding on Paul McGinn’s cross, but Maguire couldn’t react in time to get anything on it from six yards and a rare opportunity was gone.

Maguire was certainly involved in the action, for better and for worse, and his foul on Hatate as the Celtic man was getting a shot away presented the hosts with a free-kick on the edge of the box. Juranovic stepped up and crashed the ball off the bar.

Such are the vagaries of football though that no sooner had the Celtic full-back come so close to scoring at one end than he made an almighty blunder at the other to gift Motherwell an unlikely leveller.

A Sean Goss corner was cleared to the edge of the area where Blair Spittal helped the ball back in towards the back post. There was no one in claret and amber in the vicinity, but there was a lack of communication between Hart and Juranovic, and the Croatian tried to chest the ball back to his keeper. Hart though had already advanced from his line, and the ball squirmed agonisingly past him and over the line.

Celtic came within inches of retaking the lead before the interval, Hatate’s thunderous strike coming back off the inside of Kelly’s right-hand post. Kyogo dived at the rebound and headed just wide of the opposite upright, with most in the stadium presuming the ball had ended up in the net.

Celtic’s weakness in defending set-plays was almost laid bare again directly after the interval, as another corner from Goss swung right across the six-yard box and out of play on the opposite side to nervous gasps around the stadium.

Hart then came off second best in a challenge with Sondre Solholm under a high ball, but referee John Beaton waved play on with the goalkeeper making the most of a minimal connection, and Kevin Van Veen should have done better than loft over the bar from the edge of the area with Hart lying on the deck.

The natives were getting restless as Celtic laboured to create clear-cut opportunities and passes went astray, but just as Motherwell were starting to believe, Hatate came up with a blockbuster of a strike to knock them back on their heels.

Jota took a corner short to the midfielder, who came inside unchallenged to rocket a beauty of a strike across and past Kelly with the Motherwell keeper grasping at thin air.

Kyogo headed wide from in front of goal as Celtic looked to give themselves a cushion, before Kelly did well to deny the striker as he latched onto a delicious through ball from substitute David Turnbull.

Motherwell had a great chance to level though, as Celtic again struggled with a long throw into the area, young Stuart McKinstry missing his kick right in front of goal.

McGregor then took his leave, but despite committing bodies forward, Motherwell couldn’t force the equaliser. When John Beaton’s whistle came, it did what the Celtic players had failed to all afternoon; finally settle the nerves inside Celtic Park.