Motherwell were left to rue a lacklustre first half display as they fell to a 3-0 defeat to Celtic at Celtic Park on Wednesday night, writes Hamish Carton.
The Steelmen competed with their lofty opponents for large periods of a largely dull affair but were suckered on three separate occasions as they slipped to a second defeat in three matches.
The Lanarkshire side had barely been troubled when the Hoops opened the scoring.
Only a couple of speculative efforts from Olivier Ntcham had threatened the ‘Well goal in a quiet opening 20 minutes.
The table toppers soon showed their class though, with Ntcham’s French youth international colleague Odsonne Edouard supplying the ammunition with a wonderful defence splitting ball that found the marauding Anthony Ralston.
The full-back only needed a single touch to slide the ball through Mark Gillespie’s legs and net the opener on an unlikely start.
Frustratingly for Motherwell manager Stephen Robinson, the first goal acted as a catalyst for the Hoops and the floodgates soon opened, to the extent that the champions had the game sewn up before half-time.
A clumsy Charles Dunne challenge soon afforded Scott Sinclair the opportunity to double his side’s advantage.
The winger slotted the ball into the left hand corner from 12 yards, giving Gillespie no chance.
Edouard then limped off for the hosts and was replaced up front by natural winger Mikey Johnston.
The 19-year-old took just seven minutes to put his stamp on the game - a stunning right foot strike that dipped into the top right hand corner via the underside of the crossbar.
Robinson made two changes at the interval, hauling off Bigirimana and Bowman in favour of Campbell and Taylor-Sinclair.
The Northern Irishman later explained that he wanted more bravery in the midfield.
“People have to do their jobs,” he said. “When you’re a team like us coming here you have to stay with runners and we didn’t do that.
“We brought Allan Campbell on at half-time and I thought he was terrific. He played with no fear and didn’t show too much respect for the opponents he was playing against.
"We needed more of that in the first half.
“I thought we were really well organised for the first 20 minutes. Celtic were struggling to break us down. But ultimately we weren’t brave enough on the ball.
“We didn’t crumble like we did at Ibrox. For a young squad it’s easy to do that against the quality that Celtic have so that’s the real positive I take from tonight.”
The half-time changes worked to the extent that the Steelmen limited their slick opponents to fewer clear-cut chances in a largely forgettable second-half.
Only Ntcham forced Gillespie into a save, as Robinson’s side escaped with just a three goal defeat.
Celtic: Gordon, Izaguirre, Simunovic, Brown, Sinclair (Morgan), Ntcham, Edouard (Johnston), Benkovic, McGregor, Forrest, Ralston).
Motherwell: Gillespie, Tait, McHugh, Aldred, Bowman (Campbell), Grimshaw, Rose, Bigirimana (Taylor-Sinclair), Dunne (Main), Sammon, Rodriguez-Gorrin).