Matt O’Riley celebrated his contract extension at Celtic with a 97-th minute winner, a goal that by the end of play on Saturday afternoon had enabled Brendan Rodgers’ side to open up a seven-point gap at the top of the cinch Premiership as Rangers lost 3-1 to Aberdeen at Ibrox.
For the bulk of Saturday afternoon at Fir Park, it looked as though Celtic would be frustrated by a well-organised, stuffy Motherwell side.
Even after they had found the breakthrough when substitute Luis Palma somewhat fortuitously found the back of the net – his effort looked more like a cross than a shot – Motherwell had a reply in them. With Blair Spittal netting in fifth minute of added time, Celtic looked back where they started.
Before O’Riley intervened, side-footing Greg Taylor’s cross high into the net, with the exuberance of the visiting support spilling onto the pitch, just as the Motherwell fans had at Spittal’s leveller.
It says much about the character of Rodgers’ side who were able to muster the energy to go again after they looked certain to be heading for a draw.
‘That’s what Celtic does,” said the Irishman. “You still need the players to deliver and play with that calmness. You’ve got to keep believing you’ll get something from the game. We didn’t start lumping it into the box. We just worked our way up the pitch.
“It’s brilliant for the supporters because they see how this team will keep fighting to the end. I was here a few years back when we won a late on with Tom Rogic. I thought that was probably as close as we’d get to win a game late on.
“It was a great response by the players. Incredible mentality. I said to them afterwards that this club’s history is built on many late goals. But you have to have that will and desire to keep going. I thought we dominated the game. Credit to Motherwell because they were very tight and compact, low in the pitch.
“You’re not going to get it all your own way so you’ve got to be patient. We were lacking maybe a wee bit of quality in and around the box. We had some opportunities. Once they equalised, we stayed calm and waited for that moment. It was a fantastic finish off his right side. I’m absolutely delighted for the players. They give so much to the game and they deserved the three points.”
The last ten minutes of the game were in sharp contrast to what had gone on before in a turgid exchange with Celtic dominating possession and passing the ball about without quite successfully opening Motherwell up. In among the drama of the finale, it will not be lost on Rodgers that Celtic lacked a bit of menace in the final third while there were moments of switching off at the back.
As they prepare to face Lazio in their first home game of this season’s UEFA Champions League campaign, moments such as Harry Paton’s quick thinking to get on the end of a hastily taken free-kick could prove to be far more costly. Scott Bain, deputising for the suspended Joe Hart, blocked that effort with his legs but Celtic’s lack of concentration was notable. At a higher level there won’t be the same reprieve.
Motherwell manager Stuart Kettlewell was inevitably gutted at his side’s inability to take something from an afternoon they put so much into.
When Spittal drilled his low effort into the bottom corner and well past the reach of Bain, they looked certain to claim a point.
Not finished, Celtic roused themselves for one final push as they took the spoils.
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