With three minutes of stoppage time already elapsed at Fir Park, this had the feeling that Celtic were at the end of their days. Not just to fight for the title. For many of the players who had managed to squander an eight-point lead at the top of the Premiership in what seemed like the blink of an eye.
You would have given a lot more than a penny for what the management of the Parkhead club thought at the time. As another clearance from Motherwell seemed destined to confirm that two more precious points were being spilled, keeping £67.3m may not have seemed the brightest idea.
The investigation into how the club has performed this season will have to wait for now. While you wouldn’t bet much on this unconvincing Celtic team doing what is required of them in the remaining 11 games, at least they are hanging in there.
You have to hand it to Adam Idah. In the second and final arrival of the January window, it is fair to say that the reaction to the striker’s loan move from Norwich was somewhat disappointing.
The scorer of two late penalties at Easter Road, a thunderous header from the Irishman here, turned the game in Celtic’s favour. His conversion of an Alistair Johnston cross in the 94th minute could well prove to be one of the defining moments of this session.
Celtic returned to winning ways after struggling to beat Motherwell in the Premiership.
Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers celebrated his team coming from behind to beat Motherwell.
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Idah’s intervention came not too soon for Rodgers. His team was miles away in the first half. Lethargic, disjointed and wasteful in possession, his display got exactly what it deserved when Blair Spittal found the top corner two minutes before half-time.
Liam Scales and Maik Nawrocki were bullied by Theo Bair. Nicolas Kuhn and Daizen Maeda did not strike a blow on the flanks. With Callum McGregor and Matt O’Riley struggling to offer guile, Kyogo Furuhashi cut a frustrated figure on top. He was stuck and heading toward disaster.
It would be difficult to overstate the impact Idah had. Offering pace and a focal point, her presence unsettled Motherwell.
Launched around the hour mark, Yang Hyun-jun also made a good case for a so-so start at Kuhn’s expense. It was the Korean who instigated the play that led to Idah scoring the winning goal in the 94th minute. He still had time to provide an assist to his fellow substitute Luis Palma.
It was far from perfect on Rodgers’ part. However, for the second time this season at this venue, they pulled it off just when it looked like the clock would get ahead of them. There may still be some life in his title challenge.
As expected, Rodgers made the changes from the costly draw with Kilmarnock with Alistair Johnston, Nawrocki, Tomoki Iwata and Kuhn recruited. Cameron Carter-Vickers’ return initially only went as far as the bench.
Stuart Kettlewell’s only change was the return of Spittal at the expense of Harry Paton. The type of dominant performance that Rodgers so desperately needed simply did not materialize.
Only the offside flag prevented the visitors from going behind after three minutes. Bair’s footwork to fool Scales and then Joe Hart was impressive. Confirmation that the timing of his run to catch Lennon Miller’s pass had just come via VAR.
Adam Idah scores the second of his two goals with a brilliant header to make the score 3-1.
Idah’s intervention came none too soon for Rodgers and his team, who had struggled in the first half.
Motherwell looked much more dangerous every time they ventured into the final third. Another ball from Miller released Jack Vale. This time Nawrocki had a vital participation.
Celtic’s two central defenders tried to influence the game by intervening in the center of the field. However, a mistake by Nawrocki immediately put his team at a disadvantage again. Jack Vale was next to be denied by Hart.
Looking much more confident, Motherwell created another chance when Spittal spotted Georgie Gent out of the corner of his eye. However, the side’s composure deserted him at the crucial moment. Hart watched the shot.
Short of serve, Furuhashi was belatedly presented with a change when O’Riley threw him a low pass. Liam Kelly stepped up from his line and did what was necessary.
In a matter of seconds, the Japanese became the latest man in green and white to make an unforced defensive error. Spittal passed the ball to Bair. Hart saved this time but you felt he was coming.
Blair Spittle opened the scoring with a brilliant shot that put Motherwell in front.
Spittle produced with a right-footed shot into the top left corner for his impressive goal.
Coming two minutes before half-time, Spittal’s goal was a real peach. The setup was a majestic turn on the edge of the Celtic area by Miller. His pass still left Spittal with work to do. The shot with his right foot in the upper left corner was perfect.
Furuhashi made way for Idah at half-time. Frankly, Rodgers could have made multiple changes.
It paid dividends in six minutes. Working a meter of space on the left, Greg Taylor’s cross fell between Bevis Mugabi and Dan Casey. Idah seemed to jump two meters off the grass. His brilliant header had power and precision. Kelly didn’t stand a chance.
Celtic are now two points behind league leaders Rangers
In the few minutes that followed, Motherwell looked hurt. But they came back. Only a superb save from Hart prevented Miller’s header from regaining the lead.
Now it was anyone’s game. Maeda would no doubt have turned the tables completely with a header to the back post had Adan Devine not intervened.
Kuhn and Nawrocki left the scene shortly after the hour mark, having contributed little. Yang’s introduction offered Rodgers more inventiveness on the right.
The Korean’s first involvement was to find Johnston. The Canadian’s cross left Maeda with too much to do to convert at the far post. Yang eliminated the middleman a few moments later. This time the Japanese winger did connect but did not find the goal.
Calum Butcher’s first action after replacing Dan Casey was to push Idah to the edge of the area at the cost of a booking. O’Riley’s smooth free kick found the wall.
Scales had a brilliant header saved from a corner and then Idah failed to hit the target with an easier chance than the one he converted.
Celtic’s Kyogo Furuhashi was one of the visiting players who struggled against Motherwell
With the scoreboard showing five minutes of stoppage time, it looked like Celtic’s season would come down to this.
Four minutes had been added when Yang showed commendable composure to pick out the overlapping Johnston. A low cross from the side invited Idah to pass the cords. The calmest of side-footed shots sparked an eruption of relief and joy behind the goal.
You had to feel something for Motherwell. Having looked good by at least one point for so long, they were shocked to lose him so late.
The loss of a third goal practically in the last action of the game was more salt in the wound. This time Yang was the scorer: Palma deflected his deep cross to the far post. The score suggested a comfortable afternoon for the champions. The reality could not have been more different.