Classy Celtic sweep Partick aside to clinch another crown
PARTICK THISTLE 1 - CELTIC 5
Celtic clinched the Scottish Premiership title in style with an emphatic 5-1 win over Partick Thistle at Firhill last night.
Anthony Stokes headed the visitors into the lead in the third minute before 17-year-old substitute Liam Henderson, on for right-back Adam Matthews at the start of the second-half, opened his Celtic account in the 49th minute with a low drive from 12 yards.
Norwegian midfielder Stefan Johansen added a third goal in the 53rd minute to confirm the superiority of Neil Lennon's side, who responded to losing a late goal to Jags substitute Christie Elliott by scoring another two through Stokes and Kris Commons.
Celtic's third successive championship victory has been as comprehensive as it was inevitable, with traditional rivals Rangers still battling back to the top flight following their descent into administration and then liquidation.
The Hoops have lost only once in the league this season – against Aberdeen at Pittodrie – with three games drawn and, with seven matches remaining, they can reach a record 105 points which will be Lennon's target.
Thistle, valiant as they were, will continue in their battle to stay away from the relegation play-off spot and may well succeed but last night belonged to Celtic – who captured the top flight title at the earliest date in the calendar since 1928/29, when Rangers won it on March 16.
Few who made their way to Firhill would have bet against the Parkhead side taking care of business.
The Jags' last win over Celtic came in May 1995 and that record did not look like being altered when, amid a whirlwind start by the visitors, Stokes peeled away unmarked at the back post to head Emilio Izaguirre's right-footed cross past Paul Gallacher from six yards out.
The startled home side looked a gear or two behind a determined Celtic team, whose supporters began their title celebrations at an early stage. Ever so slowly, however, Thistle, with Lyle Taylor leading the line, worked themselves into the game and gave their fans something to shout about by forcing a couple of corners.
But Celtic held firm, although the tempo of the match dipped markedly.
Thistle had a decent chance in the 29th minute when Taylor set up Chris Erskine inside the box but the Jags midfielder failed to control the pass and the ball ran through to Hoops keeper Fraser Forster.
Moments later, after Izaguirre had fouled Erskine 25 yards from goal – for which he was lucky to escape a booking – Taylor blasted the free-kick against the Celtic wall and another opportunity was spurned.
However, the Maryhill men were now on top although they did not have a monopoly on wastefulness.
At the other end, after Commons had been brought to the ground 25 yards out by Stuart Bannigan, the Hoops attacking midfielder curled the free-kick high over the bar to cheers from the home fans.
Any hopes of a Thistle fightback disappeared in the 49th minute when Johansen's pass from the left was cleverly bypassed by Commons and Griffiths to the other side of the box, where Henderson took a touch before drilling it low past Gallacher and running to take the acclaim of the Celtic fans.
When Johansen fired low past the hapless Jags keeper four minutes later after playing a one-two with Griffiths, it was party time for the boisterous away supporters.
Thistle responded with efforts from Taylor and midfielder Gary Fraser but it was far too little too late.
Griffiths had the ball in the net in the 67th minute after being set up by Stokes but the Scotland striker was well offside.
Thistle claimed for a penalty when Prince Buaben's shot appeared to be blocked by the arm of Charlie Mulgrew but referee Steven McLean was unimpressed.
Elliott, on for Erskine, hammered a volley past Forster with five minutes remaining to pull one goal back but it was countered by Stokes and Commons in the final seconds as the visitors finished with purpose and power.