Celtic blew the chance to go top of the SPL and have handed the title back into the hands of their rivals Rangers, with three games remaining. Despite all their hard work in the past few months, Celtic undone it all against Inverness Caley. Credit to Inverness though, they deserved the victory and should have won by a far bigger margin.
Celtic knew that if they had won tonight’s game against Inverness, that they would regain top spot in the SPL. However they did not start as many had predicted, when an Adam Rooney flick deflected off Charlie Mulgrew for the opening goal after just seven minutes.
Just over a minute later and Celtic equalised through Kris Commons with a superb swerving shot. But Grant Munro, who was told this week that he was surplus to requirements at Inverness, restored Caley’s lead in the 53rd minute. Shane Sutherland extended Caley’s lead nine minutes later before Commons pulled one back from the penalty spot in injury time, after Shaun Maloney had been brought down in the box by Ross Tokely. And with seconds remaining Paddy McCourt went down in the box, claiming for a penalty, however referee Iain Brines turned down the claims as Inverness held on for a well deserved victory that now hands the fate of the SPL title in Rangers’ favour.
Inverness ignored this week’s news that ten of their players would be handed their P45s, and started the game with renewed vigour and a point to prove, and took the lead after just seven minutes.
Sutherland got to the byline and fired the ball across goal towards the six yard box, where Rooney flicked the ball of Mulgrew and past Fraser Forster. The lead lasted just over a minute when a superb strike from Kris Commons equalised for the visitors.
Commons turned Tokely before running towards goal and firing a left footed shot and swerve past Ryan Esson in the Caley goal. But straight from the kick off Caley could have taken the lead again when Rooney broke into the Celtic box, but saw his shot blocked by Forster’s legs.
Terry Butcher’s side claimed for a penalty after 50 minutes when Nick Ross went down under the challenge of Charlie Mulgrew, but referee Iain Brines waved away the protests.
But three minutes it was Caley celebrating once more when a superb strike from Munro gave them a deserved lead. Aaron Doran swung in a corner, but it was only headed as far as Munro, who took a touch before unleashing a curling half-volley past Forster.
Neil Lennon hooked Stokes soon after replacing him with Daryl Murphy, but the striker picked up a head knock, and while he was receiving treatment Inverness increased their lead just after the hour mark. Lee Cox sent the ball into the box where Sutherland was waiting to smash a left footed volley in off the far post, with Forster rooted to the spot.
Forster then came to the rescue once again for Celtic, saving first from Rooney who was one-on-one with the keeper, and then stopping a fierce shot from Ross.
With the minutes ticking away, and with it Celtic’s title credentials, Celtic pushed forward-looking for a goal and it came too little too late in the third minute of extra time from the penalty spot. Ross Tokely was adjudged to have brought down Shaun Maloney in the box, and Kris Commons fired it into the bottom corner.
And then a minute later, Celtic were claiming for a second penalty after substitute Paddy McCourt took tumbled in the box, but the referee waved the protests away, and rightly so, as Inverness held on to win all three points and to hand the destiny of the SPL title back in favour of Rangers.
While Celtic were poor throughout the game, you cannot ignore Caley’s performance for the full 90 minutes. They were the better side on the night and wanted the win more. Their performance did not justify their bottom six status, but as with many teams in the league, sometimes they just play that little bit better against the Old Firm.
As for Celtic, they must hope that Rangers drop points in the last three of their games, while having to secure three wins of their own, on tonight’s showing that is nigh on impossible. And the night continued to get worse for Celtic as Beram Kayal was stretchered off with a suspected broken wrist and concussion.
Outgoing Rangers manager Walter Smith could now secure his third title in a row for Rangers and a double, with many seeing tonight’s result as Celtic choking when it counts once again.