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Neil Lennon says Celtic are hitting form ahead of Spartak Moscow clash

Lennon believes Celtic are hitting form at just the right time for Spartak clash

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UPDATED:

16:15 GMT, 30 September 2012

Neil Lennon believes Celtic have hit the top of the Clydesdale Bank Premier League in perfect time for their Champions League clash with Spartak Moscow on Tuesday night.

The Hoops swept Motherwell away at Fir Park on Saturday to replace the Steelmen at the summit, thanks to a strike from in-form Gary Hooper and an own goal by the unfortunate Well defender Adam Cummins, who compounded a miserable afternoon when he was sent off after the break for a professional foul on Kris Commons.

Celtic could afford to have skipper Scott Brown's penalty saved by Darren Randolph and they were handed an added boost when Georgios Samaras returned for the first time since injuring his elbow on international duty early in September as a second-half substitute.

Delight: Celtic's Scott Brown after the own goal

Delight: Celtic's Scott Brown after the own goal

Lennon said: 'We have gone top of the league so going into the game on Tuesday, that is a good marker for us psychologically.

'We are starting to hit a bit of form which is great.

'The new lads are starting to settle in, we have players back and we will need them.

'We were very motivated going into the game and we picked Motherwell off very well at times.

'They found it a little bit difficult to adjust to the movement and we were able to get down the sides and round the back of them because we isolated their two centre-halves and some of the passing to get the boys in was very good, so overall it was a big performance.

'It was great to see Samaras back in full flow, and I thought Emilio Izaguirre was brilliant, he set a really good tempo and example and it augurs well but we know Tuesday is a different animal.

'We won't have anywhere near the bulk of possession or chances created but it is a huge confidence-booster going into that game.'

Form: Neil Lennon thinks Celtic have hit the top at the right time

Form: Neil Lennon thinks Celtic have hit the top at the right time

Any notions that Motherwell could be genuine contenders for the SPL title this season came to an abrupt end against a rampant Celtic side who could and should have scored more, notwithstanding the fact that the home side played most of the second half with 10 men.

Indeed, Fir Park manager Stuart McCall was pleased to escape without suffering a bigger drubbing.

'We wanted to do better but their movement was outstanding,' he said.

'We have a young side and there was a certain naivety, we squeezed too high.

'So it could have been more but one thing was, my players didn't chuck it.

'We said before the game that regardless of what the score was, they had to stick at it and they certainly did.'

Motherwell 0 Celtic 2: Match report

Motherwell 0 Celtic 2: Hoops topple hosts at Fir Park to snatch top spot

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UPDATED:

16:37 GMT, 29 September 2012

Celtic leapfrogged Motherwell to the top of the Clydesdale Bank Premier League by dismantling the Steelmen in impressive style at Fir Park.

On-form striker Gary Hooper opened the scoring in the 31st minute with a low drive before Well defender Adam Cummins put Scott Brown's cross past Darren Randolph and into his own net four minutes later.

Cummins was sent off soon after the break by referee Iain Brines for a 'last man' challenge on Kris Commons but Brown saw his second penalty in a week saved before a sterling display by Randolph – along with some poor finishing – prevented the scoreline reflecting the Hoops' dominance.

Another one for me! In-form Gary Hooper opened the scoring for Celtic

Another one for me! In-form Gary Hooper opened the scoring for Celtic

Neil Lennon's men will travel to Russia tomorrow for their Champions League Group G game against Spartak Moscow on Tuesday buoyed by their performance in contrast to the beleaguered Lanarkshire side, who barely troubled Hoops keeper Fraser Forster, who had one of his easiest afternoons.

Stuart McCall's men, knocked out of the Scottish Communities League Cup third-round by Rangers at Ibrox in midweek, showed three changes with Jamie Murphy, Simon Ramsden and Zaine Francis-Angol in for Henrik Ojamaa, Fraser Kerr and Steven Hammell, the latter out of the squad altogether with an injury.

Brown, Forster, Mikael Lustig, Commons and Victor Wanyama all came back after missing the 4-1 Scottish Communities League Cup third-round win over Irn-Bru First Division side Raith Rovers on Tuesday.

Efe Ambrose, who performed so impressively in the middle of the park against Raith in his first start for Celtic, partnered Kelvin Wilson in the heart of the Hoops defence, with Charlie Mulgrew moving wide left in midfield.

Brought down: Adam Cummins (left) took down Celtic's Kris Commons to give Celtic a penalty

Brought down: Adam Cummins (left) took down Celtic's Kris Commons to give Celtic a penalty

Whoops: Scott Brown missed a penalty, but it did not make a difference on the result

Whoops: Scott Brown missed a penalty, but it did not make a difference on the result

Celtic were pushed back in the early stages but it was Randolph who had to make the first real save of the game in the ninth minute from Hooper's close-range shot, after the Parkhead striker had raced on to a well-timed pass from James Forrest.

The visitors, playing in a three o'clock kick-off away from home on a Saturday for the first time in seven years, appeared to turn on a switch and moments later Randolph did well to parry Brown's low drive before Wanyama failed to get the rebound on target.

Commons looked in the mood and he had three efforts on goal, all of which narrowly missed the target, but the third of which was a clever lob in the 22nd minute which almost caught out Randolph.

In the 27th minute, though, it was casual play by the former Nottingham Forest and Derby player which gave possession away to Tom Hateley but the Fir Park defender blazed his shot from distance high over the bar.

Moments later, Hooper looked favourite to beat Randolph to Wanyama's through ball which beat the Well defence, again caught square, but the Well keeper race from his line to clear.

As Celtic kept up the pressure it took a good blocking tackle by Francis-Angol to prevent the Englishman's close-range shot again testing the Steelmen's number one.

However, Hooper was not to be denied and just after the half-hour mark, Commons' perfectly-flighted pass evaded Hutchinson and the former Scunthorpe striker took the ball in his stride before confidently steering it past Randolph for his sixth goal in three games.

It went in Brown (left) celebrated after his pass was deflected in against Motherwell

It went in Brown (left) celebrated after his pass was deflected in against Motherwell

It went in Brown (left) celebrated after his pass was deflected in against Motherwell

Four minutes later Cummins, in his bid to cut out Brown's cross from the left, after the former Hibs player had been picked out by Emilio Izaguirre, knocked the ball into his own net from six yards.

Celtic started the second-half with unsurprising confidence, Forrest playing in Hooper whose driven cross from wide on the right was begging for a team mate to tap into the net.

In the 54th minute the home side's chances of an unlikely comeback disappeared when Cummins was shown a straight red for bundling Commons to the ground inside the box as the Celtic player shaped to go through on goal after racing on to a Wanyama pass.

Brown, who had a penalty saved by Robert Douglas in last week's win over Dundee, stepped up again and Randolph guessed right to parry the shot with Wanyama putting the rebound over the bar.

It was all rather irrelevant though.

Nightmare: As well as giving away the penalty, Cummins scored an own goal

Nightmare: As well as giving away the penalty, Cummins scored an own goal

Routine: Celtic ran out deserved winners in the end

Routine: Celtic ran out deserved winners in the end

Motherwell's 10 men were penned inside their own half, struggling to survive a Celtic siege and in the 65th minute Randolph had to make a great save from Brown, who had latched on to an Izaguirre cross.

Two minutes later, the Scotland midfielder was replaced by Georgios Samaras, who returned for the first time since injuring his elbow on international duty for Greece earlier in the month, before Wanyama headed over another good Izaguirre cross from the left.

Celtic were relentless. Randolph saved from Izaguirre, who decided to have a go himself, before making another block from Forrest, who had outstripped the bedraggled Well defence.

Randolph prevented further damage being inflicted by a rampant Parkhead side who will travel to Russia tomorrow with confidence.

Rangers 0 Motherwell 0: McCoist wraps up sorry season Ibrox with Steelmen draw

Rangers 0 Motherwell 0: Sorry Gers wrap up final home game with Steelmen draw

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UPDATED:

14:12 GMT, 5 May 2012

Rangers' final game at Ibrox this season ended in stalemate as they were held to a goalless draw by Motherwell in the Clydesdale Bank Premier League.

The club had dedicated the match to the fans – with the number 12 jersey to be retired from next season in honour of the support – but the Light Blues faithful left without the win they craved.

As well as taking a point from this clash, third-placed Motherwell also claim the Champions League spot which has been denied administration-hit Rangers next term.

Stalemate: Neither side could find a way through to seal the three points

Stalemate: Neither side could find a way through to seal the three points

MATCH FACTS

Rangers: McGregor, Bartley, Goian (Perry 30), Bocanegra, Whittaker, Edu, McCabe (Bedoya 66), Ness (Little 66), Wallace, Aluko, McCulloch.

Subs not used: Alexander, Broadfoot, Healy, Mitchell.

Booked: Ness

Motherwell: Randolph, Hateley, Hutchinson, Clancy, Hammell, Humphrey, Jennings, Lasley, Law, Ojamaa (McHugh 84), Murphy.

Subs not used: Hollis, Saunders, Craigan, Daley, Forbes, Carswell.

Booked: Hutchinson

Referee: William Collum (Scotland)

Rangers made one change from the side who thrashed Dundee United 5-0 midweek for the visit of Well.

Salim Kerkar missed out with an ankle
problem and was replaced by Lee McCulloch, who recovered from the knock
that restricted him to a late substitute appearance against United.

Motherwell also made a single change after beating Hearts, with Henrik Ojamaa replacing the injured Michael Higdon.

Rangers had the best of the chances
early on and Sone Aluko set up McCulloch for the shot inside the box in
the opening minutes but his effort was blocked by Tom Hateley.

Kyle Bartley then had a go from the
edge of the area but goalkeeper Darren Randolph was untroubled as the
shot dipped just over the crossbar.

The home side continued to push
forward in search of the opener and McCulloch's cutback was collected by
Aluko but his tame shot was gathered by Randolph.

Rangers were forced to make a change
after just half an hour when Dorin Goian limped off, with what looked
like a knee problem, and was replaced by Ross Perry.

Motherwell then carved out a couple of
half-chances and Ojamaa did well to round goalkeeper Allan McGregor but
opted to play the pass rather than have a shot at goal himself.

Heads up: rangers season is ending with a whimper on the field

Heads up: rangers season is ending with a whimper on the field

Heads up: rangers season is ending with a whimper on the field

With five goals to enjoy on Wednesday
night, Rangers fans grew restless as the home side failed to convert
their superior possession into a goal before the break.

Both teams looked livelier after the
restart and Steven Whittaker tested Randolph, before McGregor was called
into action to block a low shot from Keith Lasley.

Whittaker then attempted to turn provider with a cross for McCulloch but the big utility man nodded wide of target.

Motherwell had a decent chance when
Chris Humphrey burst into the box and tried to set up the shot for Jamie
Murphy in front of goal but Perry managed to clear the danger.

Credit due: McCoist salutes the Rangers fans as McCall encourages his players at Ibrox

Credit due: McCoist salutes the Rangers fans as McCall encourages his players at Ibrox

Credit due: McCoist salutes the Rangers fans as McCall encourages his players at Ibrox

At the other end, Randolph stood tall to block one on one from Lee Wallace.

Rangers made a double change when Andy
Little and Alejandro Bedoya were thrown into the action in place of
Jamie Ness and Rhys McCabe.

The Glasgow giants should have opened
the scoring when Aluko's corner was met by Carlos Bocanegra but Little
inadvertently blocked the header from finding the back of the net.

Maurice Edu pounced on the rebound but Randolph was up to the task again with another fine save.

Rangers claimed for a penalty when
Little went to ground in the box but the pleas were ignored by referee
Willie Collum as the match ended goalless.

Tribute: the Ibrox faithful say thanks to manager Ally McCoist

Tribute: the Ibrox faithful say thanks to manager Ally McCoist

Motherwell qualify for Champions League

Motherwell in the Champions League! McCall delight as Scottish underdogs join Europe's top table

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UPDATED:

05:58 GMT, 3 May 2012

Motherwell are celebrating after securing Champions League football for the first time in their history.

Stuart McCall’s team will enter next season’s competition at the third qualifying stage after Rangers hammered Dundee United 5-0 to ensure the Steelmen cannot be caught in third place in the SPL.

With second-placed Rangers ineligible for European football due to their administration, the Fir Park club will take Scotland’s second spot behind champions Celtic.

History boys: Motherwell has qualified for the Champions League for the first time

History boys: Motherwell has qualified for the Champions League for the first time

A jubilant McCall, who was Sky TV’s guest for last night’s Ibrox clash, said: ‘It’s been a huge achievement, mainly from the players and the staff.

‘Even to get to 61 points with two games to go broke the record for Motherwell in the SPL so, overall, it’s been quite an achievement.’

Joking that his players were now looking for time off to celebrate ahead of their own trip to Ibrox on Saturday, McCall said: ‘Some of the lads have texted me saying: “See you Friday”, but they’ll be in tomorrow morning and in the afternoon as well, because after seeing the way Rangers played tonight, they’ll have to do a double shift.’

Motherwell chairman Leeann Dempster said of the club’s qualification: ‘It’s not quite a game-changer for us, but certainly a fantastic experience.

Good season: Motherwell are third in the SPL

Good season: Motherwell are third in the SPL

‘Obviously, from a financial perspective, it’s good for the club, a great opportunity to bring some cash in and, moreover, a great experience for the players, the manager and the supporters as well.

‘The third qualifying round prize money is more than 110,000, which is not too shabby.’

The leader: Stuart McCall has guided Motherwell to the Champions League

The leader: Stuart McCall has guided Motherwell to the Champions League

Michael Higdon, scorer of Tuesday’s crucial winner against Hearts, said: ‘You never know who we could get – but we need to let it sink in first.

‘I am a Liverpool fan, but I never got to see them play in Europe. I left Falkirk and then they got to play in Europe, so I missed that.

‘Who do I fancy I could be on the transfer list on Monday!

‘No, it all sounds good – it will be good to test ourselves at the very highest level.

‘Motherwell’s performances have been fantastic. Maybe we have overachieved, but we will take it when it comes.

‘I would like to think the players out of contract who got us there will be rewarded with a new deal.

‘I personally would like the team to stay together, so we will just leave it up to the people who deal with that. I would say sign them up now.

Missing out: Dundee United were thrashed by Rangers

Missing out: Dundee United were thrashed by Rangers

‘I would personally pick out Darren Randolph, who has been outstanding for us. He has 16 clean sheets and he is the best keeper I have played with. His shot stopping is unbelievable.’

United manager Peter Houston congratulated Motherwell, but slammed his own team after their hammering at Ibrox. ‘That was embarrassing. That wasn’t Dundee United out there tonight,’ he said.

‘I don’t know what happened with regards to the start. After 17 minutes, the game is over.

‘We were sloppy, we were slack and never worked hard enough. The only thing we’ve done tonight is given hope to St Johnstone and Hearts who are now behind us.

‘Congratulations to Motherwell, who worked really hard and deserve fully to be in the Champions League qualifiers.’

Motherwell celebrate making Champions League

McCall feeling just champion as Motherwell make Europe's top table

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UPDATED:

23:19 GMT, 2 May 2012

Motherwell were celebrating after securing Champions League football for the first time in their history.

Stuart McCall’s team will enter next season’s competition at the third qualifying stage after Rangers hammered Dundee United 5-0 to ensure the Steelmen cannot be caught in third place in the SPL.

With second-placed Rangers ineligible for European football due to their administration, the Fir Park club will take Scotland’s second spot behind champions Celtic.

History boys: Motherwell has qualified for the Champions League for the first time

History boys: Motherwell has qualified for the Champions League for the first time

A jubilant McCall, who was Sky TV’s guest for last night’s Ibrox clash, said: ‘It’s been a huge achievement, mainly from the players and the staff.

‘Even to get to 61 points with two games to go broke the record for Motherwell in the SPL so, overall, it’s been quite an achievement.’

Joking that his players were now looking for time off to celebrate ahead of their own trip to Ibrox on Saturday, McCall said: ‘Some of the lads have texted me saying: “See you Friday”, but they’ll be in tomorrow morning and in the afternoon as well, because after seeing the way Rangers played tonight, they’ll have to do a double shift.’

Motherwell chairman Leeann Dempster said of the club’s qualification: ‘It’s not quite a game-changer for us, but certainly a fantastic experience.

Good season: Motherwell are third in the SPL

Good season: Motherwell are third in the SPL

‘Obviously, from a financial perspective, it’s good for the club, a great opportunity to bring some cash in and, moreover, a great experience for the players, the manager and the supporters as well.

‘The third qualifying round prize money is more than 110,000, which is not too shabby.’

The leader: Stuart McCall has guided Motherwell to the Champions League

The leader: Stuart McCall has guided Motherwell to the Champions League

Michael Higdon, scorer of Tuesday’s crucial winner against Hearts, said: ‘You never know who we could get — but we need to let it sink in first.

‘I am a Liverpool fan, but I never got to see them play in Europe. I left Falkirk and then they got to play in Europe, so I missed that.

‘Who do I fancy I could be on the transfer list on Monday!

‘No, it all sounds good — it will be good to test ourselves at the very highest level.

‘Motherwell’s performances have been fantastic. Maybe we have overachieved, but we will take it when it comes.

‘I would like to think the players out of contract who got us there will be rewarded with a new deal.

‘I personally would like the team to stay together, so we will just leave it up to the people who deal with that. I would say sign them up now.

‘I would personally pick out Darren Randolph, who has been outstanding for us. He has 16 clean sheets and he is the best keeper I have played with. His shot stopping is unbelievable.’

United manager Peter Houston congratulated Motherwell, but slammed his own team after their hammering at Ibrox. ‘That was embarrassing. That wasn’t Dundee United out there tonight,’ he said.

‘I don’t know what happened with regards to the start. After 17 minutes, the game is over.

‘We were sloppy, we were slack and never worked hard enough. The only thing we’ve done tonight is given hope to St Johnstone and Hearts who are now behind us.

‘Congratulations to Motherwell, who worked really hard and deserve fully to be in the Champions League qualifiers.’

Motherwell 1 Rangers 2

Motherwell 1 Rangers 2: McCulloch strikes late to keep Celtic's champagne on ice

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UPDATED:

13:34 GMT, 31 March 2012

Lee McCulloch grabbed a late winner for Rangers against Motherwell and ensured Celtic will have to wait at least until next week to clinch the Clydesdale Bank Premier League title.

Henrik Ojamaa's early opener for the home side was cancelled out by Steven Whittaker, before McCulloch pounced with a couple of minutes to go.

The result means Motherwell's 10-year wait for a win over Rangers continues, while allowing the Scottish champions to move six points ahead of their hosts in the fight for second spot.

Late show: Rangers Lee McCulloch wheels away after scoring Rangers' winner against Motherwell

Late show: Rangers Lee McCulloch wheels away after scoring Rangers' winner against Motherwell

MATCH FACTS

Motherwell: Randolph, Hateley, Clancy, Hutchinson, Hammell, Humphrey, Jennings, Lasley, Law (Daley, 90), Higdon, Ojamaa.

Subs not used: Hollis, Murphy, McHugh, Forbes, Page, Carswell.

Goals: Ojamaa 6

Booked: Clancy, Lasley

Rangers: McGregor, Bartley, Perry, Goian, Papac (Lafferty, 63), Whittaker, Davis, Edu (Little, 85), Wallace, Aluko, McCulloch.

Subs not used: Alexander, Healy, Bedoya, Kerkar, MacLeod.

Goals: Whittaker 9, McCulloch 89

Booked: Goian, Whittaker, Aluko

Referee: Iain Brines (Scotland)

Att: 9,063

Rangers made two changes from last week's Old Firm derby win over Celtic for the clash at Fir Park.
Kyle Bartley started along with Ross Perry, while Carlos Bocanegra missed out through suspension and Rhys McCabe was injured.

Motherwell welcomed back Keith Lasley from suspension and he replaced Stuart Carswell in the side as the Steelmen made one change from last week's defeat to Kilmarnock.

The home side surged into the lead with just six minutes on the clock when Sasa Papac inadvertently played the ball forward for Chris Humphrey and his low cross found Ojamaa, who rifled home from close range.

Rangers were back on level terms just three minutes later when a Lasley clearance was played into the path of Whittaker by Papac and he sent a swerving left-foot shot past goalkeeper Darren Randolph from 30 yards.

Whittaker was then cautioned for a challenge on Tim Clancy and the Motherwell player was fortunate to also escape with a yellow card from referee Iain Brines following his reaction to the foul.

Motherwell still looked dangerous and Nicky Law found himself through on goal only to be denied by an impressive stop from Allan McGregor, before Humphrey saw his effort fizz wide.

False dawn: Motherwell's Henrik Ojama celebrates his goal with Chris Humphrey

False dawn: Motherwell's Henrik Ojama celebrates his goal with Chris Humphrey

At the other end, there was a moment of controversy when Sone Aluko went to ground after being clipped by Randolph and thought he had won a penalty.

But, rather than point to the spot, referee Brines booked the player for diving instead.

Television pictures showed there was contact by the Well goalkeeper and Aluko was still remonstrating with the match officials as he left the pitch at half-time.

Bullet: Whittaker fires Rangers level against Motherwell at Fir Park

Bullet: Whittaker fires Rangers level against Motherwell at Fir Park

Motherwell could have restored their lead shortly after the restart when Clancy teed up a shot for Lasley, but he was denied the sight of his thunderous effort hitting the back of the net by an excellent save from McGregor.

Whittaker then had a chance to add to his tally for the day when he met a long cross from Papac from the left only to direct his header over the crossbar.

Rangers made their first change after 62 minutes when Papac was withdrawn to allow for the introduction of Kyle Lafferty.

Come on ref! Sone Aluko is booked for diving but he believed he should be awarded a penalty

Come on ref! Sone Aluko is booked for diving but he believed he should be awarded a penalty

Rangers had the chance to pile on the pressure when Aluko won a free-kick on the edge of the box but skipper Steven Davis sent his curling effort well over the crossbar.

McGregor came to the rescue of Rangers again as the match entered the final 10 minutes when he produced a superb save to bat a ferocious shot from Michael Higdon to safety.

Tricky winger: Ranger's Sone Aluko and Motherwell's Michael Higdon (left) do battle

Tricky winger: Ranger's Sone Aluko and Motherwell's Michael Higdon (left) do battle

Both sides were determined to find the winner in the final stages and Randolph was called into action to block from Lafferty.

Rangers had the net bulging again with two minutes to go when a long throw in from Lee Wallace found McCulloch to fire home from six yards and secure the points.