Glasgow (AFP) – Moussa Dembele was on target again as his 27th goal of the season helped runaway Scottish Premiership leaders Celtic to a 2-0 win over Motherwell on Saturday.
The 20-year-old Frenchman — tipped for a call-up to Didier Deschamps’ France squad for the matches against Luxembourg and Spain next month — expertly despatched a first-half penalty to open the scoring.
James Forrest added a second before the break to seal Celtic’s 20th consecutive league victory as they remain unbeaten in 31 domestic matches since the start of the season.
Victory extends their advantage over Aberdeen, who are away to Kilmarnock on Sunday, to 27 points with third-placed Rangers a further three behind ahead of their clash with Dundee.
Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers said his side improved after a slow start.
“The first 20 minutes we were slow and not aggressive enough. The second half was much better and we had better penetration in the team,” Rodgers said.
“I was pleased in general, It’s a great focus the players have.”
– ‘We held our own’ –
Motherwell manager Mark McGhee focused on the positives for his side which came days after they conceded seven to Aberdeen.
“Overall we contained them and they had very few shots,” McGhee said.
“In the second half it was much better and we held our own.”
Motherwell were dealt a blow when experienced left-back Stevie Hammell was injured in the warm-up and had to be replaced by Joe Chalmers.
Their daunting task of trying to stop a Celtic side that had scored 16 in their past four games was made even harder when Stephen McManus injured himself in the opening seconds before hobbling off in the fifth minute.
Despite this, Motherwell made a solid start and it took until midway through the half for Celtic to have a meaningful chance when Forrest’s shot was parried by Craig Samson and Liam Henderson somehow missed the target with the rebound.
The visitors dealt with the pressure from Celtic until the 34th minute when substitute Zak Jules brought down Dembele to concede a penalty.
The Frenchman dusted himself down to take the spot-kick and sent Samson the wrong way for his seventh goal in three games.
Motherwell had a chance for an almost instant equaliser when Stephen Pearson fired in a shot from the penalty spot but ‘keeper Craig Gordon showed great reflexes to get down low and push away his effort.
The visitors were left to contemplate what might have been when Forrest then fired Celtic further in front in the 41st minute.
The winger collected a pass wide on the right and he turned Chalmers inside out before drilling an angled shot into the bottom corner.
Following a slow start to the second half it was Dembele who was first to try his luck with a shot he fired wide before Scott Sinclair curled a free-kick from the edge of the box just over.
Sinclair was then guilty of missing a gilt-edged chance when Forrest’s cross from the right found him lurking at the far post but he miscued his shot and sent it high over the bar.
Elsewhere, Hearts missed the chance to close the gap with Rangers as they were held to a 1-1 draw by bottom-of-the-table Inverness Caledonian Thistle.
Arnaud Djoum, fresh from winning the Africa Cup of Nations with Cameroon, scored an equaliser in the second half for the Edinburgh side.