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  • Derby delight for Celts at Firhill

    Derby delight for Celts at Firhill

    By: Martin Dalziel on 12 Mar, 2016 14:28

  • SPFL Premiership
    Firhill Stadium, Partick
    Saturday, March 12, 2016

    (Welsh 85)

    (Griffiths 45, McGregor 53)

    GOALS either side of half-time ensured Celtic emerged victorious from a closely-fought Glasgow derby at Firhill to go four points clear at the top of the league.

    It took the full 45 minutes of the first-half for the champions to find the opener against an organised Jags side but patience finally paid off when Leigh Griffiths tucked a left-footed shot beyond Tomas Cerny on the stretch to break the deadlock.

    Callum McGregor’s composed finish less than 10 minutes after the restart gave the Celts a commanding lead and the goal proved pivotal as Thistle were awarded a late penalty which Sean Welsh scored to bring the game to a tense climax.

    The goal spurred the home team on in the dying minutes but the champions held firm to claim a crucial three points and stretch their lead at the top of the Premiership ahead of Aberdeen’s game against Kilmarnock later in the afternoon.

    Ronny Deila made just one change to his team following last Sunday’s Scottish Cup win over Morton, with Nir Bitton replacing Stefan Johansen after the Norwegian midfielder was forced off at half-time in last week’s tie after taking a knock on his ankle.

    The switch allowed Bitton to make his 100th appearance for the Bhoys, lining up in midfield alongside Scott Brown and Callum McGregor as the champions stuck with a 4-3-3 formation.

    After a positive start from the home team, Celtic eventually settled and bossed the opening stages of the game. Cerny had to get down well to save from Leigh Griffiths’ stooping header before Gary Mackay-Steven poked a shot narrowly wide as the Celts sought an early opener.

    The Hoops enjoyed most of the possession but struggled to create openings down the flanks as Thistle pushed the Bhoys infield and flooded the centre of the park with bodies. The Jags first real chance came from Liam Lindsay nearly 20 minutes in but Craig Gordon was equal to the defender’s angled drive.

    Celtic were beginning to find their stride as Thistle briefly lost some composure, with David Amoo and Gary Miller both booked in quick succession for fouls on the impressive Kieran Tierney and Mackay-Steven respectively.

    Kris Doolan’s twisting run and shot then brought out another good stop from Gordon after Charlie Mulgrew was beaten in the box as the game spilled from end to end.

    Chances continued to fall Celtic’s way as half-time drew closer and it looked as though the teams would go in level but the deadlock was finally broken on the 45 minute mark by the Hoops leading scorer Griffiths, sending the away fans wild.

    Mackay-Steven squeezed in a cross from the left which Griffiths did well to shift his feet and control before the forward lashed a left-footed shot into the corner of the net to put the champions deservedly in front at the break.

    The Celts started the second-half the way they finished the first, pressing high and doing well to spread the play through Thistle’s crowded midfield, but they needed an early goal to properly establish command of the game and that came just inside 10 minutes of the restart through McGregor.

    Mackay-Steven’s interception sparked the move forward and the winger did well to hold on to the ball and drag the home defence left, opening up space for McGregor to run into space on the right. Mackay-Steven then slipped a pinpoint pass to his team-mate, who showed great composure to feint left before shifting the ball onto his right and slotting powerfully past Cerny.

    Celtic’s lead was now commanding and they could afford a moment’s respite to plan their next move. Thistle rolled the dice by replacing striker Doolan with Mathias Pogba as they sought a way back into the game, but it was the Hoops who stayed on top and continued to create.

    Colin Kazim-Richard’s introduction with 20 minutes remaining in place of Commons gave the Celts a different dynamic for the closing stages as they searched for a third goal, and that almost came through Griffiths when he gathered McGregor’s through ball but Cerny saved well at his feet before Kazim-Richards fired wide with the goal at his mercy.

    The powerful striker almost atoned for his miss moments later with a delightful turn and shot in the box but pulled his effort across the face of goal.

    The game then took a dramatic twist with five minutes left when Erik Sviatchenko was booked for a pull in the box on Steven Lawless, giving the home team a penalty, which Welsh dispatched to the right of the goal, sending Gordon the wrong way.

    The Jags were buoyed by the strike and pushed for a point but Celtic held firm and kept the ball in the home team’s half to count down the clock and secure a massive three points in the title race.

    CELTIC (4-3-3) Gordon; Lustig, Sviatchenko, Mulgrew, Tierney; McGregor, Brown, Bitton; Commons (Kazim-Richards 67), Griffiths (Armstrong 88), Mackay-Steven (Ambrose 90)

    Not used: Fasan, Rogic, Roberts, Forrest

    PARTICK THISTLE: (4-1-1) Cerny; Miller, Lindsay, Seaborne, Booth; Amoo, Osman, Welsh, Lawless (Edwards 86); Fraser (Elliott 71), Doolan (Pogba 60)

    Not used: Scully, German, Frans, Wilson

    Website man of the match: Gary Mackay-Steven

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