At Fir Park, MOTHERWELL v CELTIC, Neil Lennon’s charges will receive a ‘guard of honour’ from the Motherwell team, this being their first league game since officially winning the SPL title last Sunday. Mr Lennon has been in the news this week for criticising the fact that none of his players were nominated for the PFA shortlist. Could this be a cue for some of his players turning in virtuoso performances in this match? Whether the Celtic manager should have spoken out is debatable, allowing some sections of the media to shed him in a somewhat negative light. The Irishman has broad enough shoulders to shrug off any would be snipers and won’t be losing any sleep over it, no doubt. I personally think that he should have kept his own counsel and deprived phone ins of their feeding frenzy! With regards to the four nominees, Messrs Higdon and Griffiths are obvious candidates. Without meaning any disrespect, I find it confusing that players such as Foster, Wanyama, Ledley and Commons did not gain more votes than McGinn or Shinnie.
To the match in hand, however, which I think will be an entertaining spectacle. Stuart McCall and his Steelmen deserve all the plaudits going for their performances this season. They sit in clear second place, six points ahead of ICT, and regardless of how they fare against Celtic in this match, I think that they are guaranteed of remaining in that position. The fans of the North Lanarkshire club should already be packing passports and scarves in preparation for their forthcoming European adventure(s).
Celtic are favourites to win the match, as they have been in every SPL match they have played this season. One look at the table shows that Celtic have not won all of their 34 games thus far, and they are certainly not guaranteed to do so in this fixture as well.
Two factors could have a big influence on the result. Firstly, team selection in both camps could be crucial. Motherwell will field their strongest team while Neil Lennon has already stated that certain players will be rested during the coming weeks. More on that shortly. The second factor that could impact on it is which team will be more ‘up for it’. My knee jerk reaction to that is that the home side could have the edge in this department. They will want to officially secure their European place as soon as possible and are also playing at home. Celtic have won the league, players wont want injured with a cup final looming and wont be fully focused on the match. That is one possible theory or way of looking at it. All it takes is one perceived injustice or a heavy opposition tackle to give a team back that edge. Factor in the PFA nominees controversy and the fact that Mr Lennon detests defeat and we have a feisty fixture on the cards.
With regards to todays teams Motherwell have a full squad to choose from and McCall will field what he considers his strongest team for the job in hand.Celtic, as I alluded to earlier, are resting several players in the coming weeks. Kris Commons, Joe Ledley, Efe Ambrose and Kelvin Wilson are all absentees for that reason. Lassad, Brown and Matthews are missing because of injury.
Celtic hold a 2-1 advantage in the three games played this season. This is the third encounter at Fir Park – a quirk of our split – and both teams have one victory apiece at this venue.
Prediction: Celtic to show the class of champions and take all three points.
By Mark Williamson