Celtic heap pressure of title rivals with early kick-off win over Motherwell

Celtic 3 Motherwell 0

Celtic hosted Motherwell today with an opportunity to grab three points and hold theRangers and Glasgow City’s – above them in the SWPL1 title race – feet to the fire ahead of those two sides meeting at 4.10pm this afternoon, in a game you can watch live on BBC Alba.

The Celts 12pm Kick off – also live on the BBC – could have been a potential banana skin had thoughts of Celtic’s own midweek encounter with Glasgow City taken precedence over today’s encounter, or indeed the distraction of the top two meeting some four hours later. As such focus on the job in hand was the order of the day as the Celts set about Taking Care of Business at K-Park this lunchtime.

That game is currently underway with Glasgow City leading theRangers 1-0 after an early goal from Chinchilla.

Any concerns that Fran Alonso may rotate the squad heavily were dispensed as the first eleven was announced and Celtic’s big hitters such as Sarah Ewens and Sarah Teegarden made the line up with the only real surprise the dropping to the bench of the consistent Caitlin Hayes, replaced by Kelly Clark, whilst there was also an immediate place in the squad for new signing London Pollard as she was also named amongst the substitutes.

Celtic immediately started with a high press from kick off as Sarah Teegarden won possession, in what appeared from the off, to be a real statement of intent. As did the width supplied in what appeared to be a 2-4-4 formation when in possession as Izzy Atkinson on the left and Rachel Donaldson on the right pushed high up the pitch.

Motherwell however did well, despite being a youthful side lacking in physicality, to soak up initial pressure and had a couple of early opportunities at goal without really having the belief to convert the chances created. Meanwhile in the opening quarter Celtic’s passing was far too imprecise and crosses and shots from distance lacking in accuracy as the Celts looked to settle into a rhythm.

That soon changed with a fantastic 18th minute run to the by-line from the bright Sarah Ewens down Motherwell’s left who hung up a beautiful back post cross met perfectly by the head of Rachel Donaldson who executed the finish superbly to put the Celts a goal to the good.

From there Celtic started to turn the screw forcing three corners in quick succession culminating in a Chloe Craig header going just wide of Motherwell’s on loan Killie ‘keeper Lauren McGregor’s left-hand post before Rachel Donaldson entered the referee’s book for breaking up a Motherwell counter attack, resulting in an exchange of views from both benches.

Motherwell were continually causing problems down Celtic’s exposed right side and nearly scored when a deflected effort went just wide. Celtic then also came close when a Jacynta effort was deflected wide and Teegarden headed just off target from the resultant corner. It was hard to believe the game at this moment had only one goal separating the sides such was the ebb and flow.

That was too be rectified with ten minutes of the first half remaining as once again Celtic achieved the overload on the left side of their opponents’ defence and Jacynta picked out Rachel Donaldson at the back post. This time it was a low left footed drive back across the ‘keeper that put the Celts two up.

Two was soon to become three as Anna Filbey brilliantly mugged the Motherwell defence down that same left side where the first two goals came from before delivering an excellent cross for an easy nodded finish from Sarah Teegarden, and with that third goal the score was beginning to reflect Celtic’s superiority.

Going in at half time Fran Alonso must have had some food for thought. Going forward Celtic were creating chances yet with so many bodies in advanced areas space was at a premium and players appeared to be getting in each other’s way.

At the same time defensively Celtic were exposed, as the full back positions being so advanced, left large spaces in behind for Motherwell’s counter attack and both Rachel Donaldson and Izzy Atkinson’ first half yellow cards indicated the difficulty of the task they were facing. It was a risky approach but with the advantage gained it seemed the reward was outweighing the risk.

The second half once again started with Celtic on the front foot and looking to add to the first half total, though perhaps surprisingly both cautioned players remained on the park despite Celtic’s comfortable lead and with thoughts now moving to a big midweek fixture.

Mariah Lee in particular started well as she sped past Rosie Slater as once again Celtic piled pressure on the left of Motherwell’s defence but the shot didn’t quite match up to the build-up play, and soon after Lisa Robertson hit a fine shot from distance that appeared to be tipped over by McGregor in the ‘Well goal only for a goal kick to be awarded.

On the hour mark Fran Alonso did make some changes as Jodie Bartle, Kate Nicolson, Tegan Bowie and new signing London Pollard came on for Rachel Donaldson, Sarah Ewens, Mariah Lee, and Lisa Robertson, as Alonso started to look to protect some key players with one eye on Wednesday night’s Glasgow City encounter.

The changes certainly took the sting out the game as Celtic reorganised themselves but it showed the advantage Celtic had over their opponents by way of strength in depth throughout the squad, as was evidenced as Anna Filbey was replaced by Rebecca McAllister with twenty minutes to go. Indeed, the only chances of note for Celtic in the remainder of the game was a Nicolson drive from 20 yards that forced McGregor to get down to save, and a fine effort for a debut goal for London Pollard that flew just wide, however Celtic were also it must be said comfortable to simply rest whenever possible in possession.

The win for Celtic, temporarily at least, puts the Celts into second place ahead of the meeting between theRangers and Glasgow City later this afternoon. And now with Celtic having focused on the job at hand the players and staff could sit back and watch their title challengers go head-to-head, waiting for something to give in the tightest of league races and with Celtic due to face Glasgow City in midweek.

There was perhaps a lack of fluency to Celtic’s second half performance, mainly due to so many changes being made at the same time, however this was a superbly professional performance from Celtic and a brave tactical approach from Fran Alonso. It was a gamble however that more than paid off for the Hoops head-coach and allowed Celtic to put some heat on both their title rivals.

All we asked of today’s game was Celtic to take care of business this afternoon. The Hoops certainly did just that as they made it six wins out of six to move above high spending rivals theRangers in the table, and who doesn’t like to see that?

Niall J

About Author

As a Bellshill Bhoy I was taken to my first Celtic game in the summer of 1987. It was Billy McNeill’s return to Celtic Park as manager and Celtic lost 5-1 to Arsenal . I thought I was a jinx, I think my Grandfather might have thought the same. It was the finest gift anyone ever gave me when he walked me through Parkhead's gates.

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