Celtic v Motherwell Preview – Robinson’s side have had a frustrating start to their campaign

Celtic make a welcome return to players concentrating on a ball and the yard of grass in front of them rather than off-field distractions on Sunday at 3pm. The Celts will have an opportunity to push the debacle of the Ferencvaros European exit back up the fixtures played section while slowly but surely healing the pain a third consecutive qualifying round exit has inflicted on us all.

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Sunday’s visitors are a Motherwell side that finished in a highly credible third place last season and last night were victorious in the Europa League qualifying match their league position earned them with fine 5-1 victory over Glentoran and Fir Park.

Prior to showing Celtic how you manage a winnable European game with last night’s victory over their Irish opponents, Motherwell it’s fair to say had huffed and puffed their way through the opening few weeks of the season. Putting the ball in the net was clearly a chore and Stephen Robinson had even publicly challenged the commitment of some first team stars questioning if certain player agents were diverting his players attention away from the task at hand. Sound familiar?

At least Robinson and Lennon will have something in common to discuss over a socially distance post-match pint with on Sunday evening.

Robinson’s wheeling and dealing so far

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Manager Stephen Robinson spent the summer batting off links from down south and the Northern Ireland manager’s job and has certainly worked a kind of magic in his time with the North Lanarkshire club. It seems every year his best players are sold from under him and every year he manages somehow to maintain if not enhance what has gone before.

This season it is fair to say his side has been inconsistent and the sales of important players have continued. Most notably David Turnbull leaving for a club record fee and signing for Celtic at the second attempt.

Joining Turnbull in leaving Motherwell have been eight other players including goalkeeper Mark Gillespie joining Newcastle United, a somewhat acrimonious exit on the part of full back Richard Tait leaving to sign for St Mirren, while Defenders Peter Hartley, Adam Livingstone, forward Christy Manzinga, and midfielder Christian Ilic left without signing up elsewhere and back up goalkeeper Rohan Ferguson suffering the same fate.

Meanwhile last year’s loan signings the impressive midfielder Rolando Aarons and forward Mikael Ndjoli returned to their contracted clubs Newcastle United and Bournemouth respectively.

As ever Stephen Robinson has been active in finding suitable fits to replace those who depart and the new faces Celtic will face will include the reappearance of Jake Hastie. The midfielder returns to his former club having struggled to make an impact at ‘the’ Rangers. Impressive as Hastie was in his first spell at Fir Park, he’s certainly been a slow starter this time around and has thus far looked a shadow of the player who left for Ibrox last season.

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Seven others have joined up the squad with the ‘Well this season, the most notable a short term signing of Scottish international Stephen O’Donnell until January. This is quite a coup for Motherwell as O’Donnell must have been confident of an English Championship move after choosing to leave Kilmarnock at the end of last season.

Joining O’Donnell are defender Ricki Lamie, joining from Livingston, striker Jordan White heading south from Inverness Caledonian Thistle and ex Celt and Partick Thistle goalkeeper Scott Fox also signing on following Thistle’s relegation to League one.

Midfielder Mark O’Hara who spent time on loan from Peterborough United has converted his loan deal to a permanent arrangement, Defender Nathan McGinley has signed on following his release from Forest Green Rovers and striker Callum Lang – who broke his long-awaited duck in last night’s win against Glentoran – has joined on loan from administration hit English League One side Wigan Athletic.

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The Season so far

Motherwell opened the season with a Sky TV defeat against Ross County, a game Motherwell dominated but failed to take a multitude of chances as they lost to a 24th minute Ross Stewart penalty.

They followed that disappointing result by adding a poor performance to their inability to score with a 1-0 defeat at home to newly promoted Dundee United, with United’s centre half Mark Reynolds scoring the only goal seven minutes into the second half.

There were signs of improvement when David Turnbull put them into an 8th minute lead against Livingston at Fir Park before new Scottish international Lyndon Dykes equalised with a penalty. Motherwell responded well with Allan Campbell scoring 10 minutes before half time but the first three points of the season were denied in the second half as Livingston levelled through Jamesy Forrest’s wee brother Alan twenty minutes from time.

If Motherwell thought a corner had been turned by at least getting in amongst the goals against Livi they resorted to type in a goalless draw against Hibs at Easter Road before a frustrating 1-0 Lanarkshire derby defeat at home to Hamilton. In a game they managed 68% possession and 81% pass accuracy as well as 17 shots at the Accies goal they could not convert their chances and lost to an 86th minute Hakeem Odoffin strike with only Accies second shot on target of the entire afternoon.

Europe a welcome distraction

Stephen Robinson to be fair has lamented his side’s bad luck and was vocal in claiming it would all come together. Last night against Glentoran however it looked as if it was the same old story.

Despite dominating the first half Motherwell could not score and went in at the break goalless and well aware their Irish opponents were making opportunities of their own. Yet lady luck eventually shone on the Motherwell side with the Seanan Clucas sending off for Glentoran in the 52nd minute. Despite going down to 10 men initially encouraging Glentoran as a series of chances were spurned, Motherwell took control and opened the scoring six minutes after the ordering off through Callum Lang’s first goal and from there ‘Well turned the screw.

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They added four more goals through former Kilmarnock right back Stephen O’Donnell in the 72nd minute before Liam Polworth, in for the departed Turnbull, also getting in the act three minutes later, then ex Celt and slayer of Barcelona Tony Watt added a fourth prior to setting up Chris Long – who worked his socks off all night – for Motherwell’s last of the night. There was time for Glentoran to get a deserved goal by way of an injury time Robbie McDaid penalty but it was Motherwell who went from famine to feast in terms of putting the ball in the net and will now move on to Sunday’s game at Celtic Park confident their goal scoring touch has returned.

One to watch

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Should he start the game you’d have to say it would be Tony Watt. Despite a nomadic football career since he left Celtic, on his day Watt remains he’s as good a striker as there is operating in Scotland. He has everything in his armoury a striker should have and would be more than willing to remind Neil Lennon what he’s missing by gunning down the club he supports.

In his absence Chris Long impressed last night and is willing to drop into pockets of space and utilise the wide areas to get involved in the action. A hard worker and a striker who despite only breaking his duck last night for this season has a fine goalscoring record behind him.

One to target

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Harsh as it may seem goalkeeper and former Celtic target Trevor Carson has to be the one area Celtic can earmark. Having been out the game following a diagnosis of deep vein thrombosis that threatened his career he then had to spend last season watching Mark Gillespie from the Motherwell bench. Carson has only returned to the side on a permanent basis since Gillespie’s move to Newcastle and still looked a little of match sharpness in last night’s Euro qualifier. There may be an advantage for the Celts in testing the keeper from the off.

How they line up 

In terms of formation Motherwell have gone from starting the season in a 4-2-3-1 formation before reverting to a 4-3-3 attacking style following that opening day defeat to Ross County. Last night they also experimented with three at the back, though against Celtic you’d expect they’d return to the solidity a back four rather than leaving themselves exposed to Celtic’s attacking from wide positions. Goalscoring has been a problem and despite that particular dam bursting last night much of that was down to a tiring Glentoran side who were also reduced to ten men.

Sunday’s game

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Celtic will be looking to build their confidence after Wednesdays’ bitterly disappointing Ferencvaros defeat and one thing is certain this Motherwell team are nowhere near as good a team as the underrated Hungarian champions. As such Celtic have the ideal opportunity to rebuild morale and score a few goals into the bargain.

As mentioned, Trevor Carson is not yet up to speed and in Bevis Mugabi, they have a central defender who only looks a footballer from the waist up. If Ajeti starts on Sunday his movement could tie the Motherwell central defender in knots.

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Motherwell, much like Celtic aren’t quite hitting the heights of last season just yet and with an extra day’s recovery to also give an advantage to Celtic I can see nothing to fear from a ‘Well side who so far have looked a work in progress rather than finished article.

Celtic should win this comfortably and even without talismanic striker Edouard I’m going for a 4-0 Celtic win with David Turnbull coming off the bench to grab that final goal. That’s just how football works isn’t it?

Niall J

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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 finest gift anyone ever gave me when he walked me through Parhead's gates.

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