Celtic 1 Motherwell 0: Northern Ireland international Paddy McCourt was the toast of the green half of Glasgow last night as his first-half strike sent Celtic to the top of the Clydesdale Bank Premier league.
The Londonderry man’s effort was enough to see off Motherwell and puts them in great spirits ahead of Sunday’s Old Firm encounter with Rangers.
However, there was a major blow for Neil Lennon’s side as skipper Scott Brown was sent off and he’ll miss the summit showdown as a result.
The home side looked less impressive after the break but while they never looked like losing they received a late blow in the 89th minute when Brown, just back in the team after a lengthy injury and booked earlier for a foul on Chris Humphrey, received a second yellow for a foul on Stevie Hammell.
Celtic, who also saw substitute Daryl Murphy limp off injured, are now one point clear of Rangers, albeit having played two games more than the champions, but manager Lennon will have to look for a replacement for the hot-headed Brown.
For their part, Motherwell, expected to confirm Stuart McCall as their new manager, were poor again and will need some reorganising by the former Scotland international.
Lennon, with one eye on the Rangers game, rang the changes for the visit of the Fir Park men.
With Ki Sung-yueng and Cha Du-Ri away at the Asian Cup with South Korea, Olivier Kapo made his first start for Celtic with James Forrest, Joe Ledley, Mark Wilson and Anthony Stokes also coming in to the starting line-up.
The visitors showed one change to the side which lost 4-1 at home to Rangers with caretaker boss Gordon Young bringing in Marc Fitzpatrick for Nick Blackman, who dropped to the bench.
Motherwell looked bereft of hope, belief and confidence and it was not a surprise when, in the 27th minute, Celtic took the lead with the inspirational McCourt breaking the deadlock.
After yet another Hoops corner had the Fir Park men pinned back in to their own penalty area, the Northern Ireland international took a pass from Wilson, drifted in to the box and almost casually curled a right-footed shot from 16 yards in to the far corner past Randolph.
Six minutes later Ledley was sent clear by Stokes and his low left-footed shot from 16 yards sped past Randolph but also the far post.
There was blow for the Hoops in the 51st minute when substitute Murphy limped off injured to be replaced by Beram Kayal.
In the 58th minute, as the home defence came under some pressure, Fitzpatrick got on the end of a Chris Humphrey cross but failed to connect properly from six yards and the ball bounced in to the arms of Celtic keeper Fraser Forster.
The game turned rather nasty as the tackles began to fly in, the home fans incensed by those which were perpetrated on their players.
Blackman replaced Jamie Murphy in the 76th minute as the visitors sensed there might be a point there for the taking.
There were some nerves in the final stages and in the 89th minute Brown, booked earlier, was sent packing by referee Stephen Finnie after a challenge on Hammell to take the shine of Celtic going top of the table.