Mohamed Elyounoussi scored a hat-trick as Celtic cruised past Motherwell 4-1 at Fir Park to ease the pressure on under-fire manager Neil Lennon.
Elyounoussi found himself in the right place at the right time to net on eight and 27 minutes as the Scottish Premiership champions ended a recent run of just one win in their last six matches in all competitions.
While Declan Gallagher’s 72nd-minute header briefly gave the hosts hope of a point, it was Elyounoussi who sealed the win with a brilliant header just four minutes later, before Olivier Ntcham added a late strike (86).
As a result, the champions have cut Rangers’ lead at the top of the table to six points – with a match in hand – ahead of their rivals’ home clash with Hamilton later on Sunday, while Motherwell stay in seventh.
Motherwell: Chapman (6), O’Donnell (6), Gallagher (7), McGinley (6), Maguire (6), Campbell (6), O’Hara (6), Polworth (5), Cole (7), Lang (7), Watt (8)
Subs: Crawford (6), White (6) Long (6)
Celtic: Bain (7); Bitton (6), Brownn (8), Ajeti (7), Christie (7), Rogic (9), Elyounoussi (8), Frimpong (8), Ajer (6), McGregor (7), Laxalt (7)
Subs: Duffy (6), Ntcham (7), Edouard (6), Elhamed (7)
Man of the match: Tom Rogic
How the champions bounced back at Fir Park
The heat was very much on Celtic when they arrived at Fir Park given the shambolic nature of their 4-1 home loss to Sparta Prague in the Europa League on Thursday, although if there was one side they could have picked to face, then it would have been Motherwell.
Celtic had not lost any of their previous 15 league encounters against Stephen Robinson’s men, including winning their previous six in a row, and it did not take them long to take the lead.
Liam Polworth was at fault after gifting possession straight to Albian Ajeti in the box and despite his low shot striking the inside of the post, the alert Elyounoussi was there to touch home the rebound.
The Norway international soon doubled his side’s lead when Jeremie Frimpong and the outstanding Tom Rogic combined in the box before the latter set up Elyounoussi, who side-footed home from close range.
However, the home side refused to lie down and were rewarded for their efforts when Gallagher rose highest to meet a free-kick and place a brilliant header into the far corner of the net for the captain’s third goal for the club.
Whatever hopes Motherwell may have had of taking something from the game were soon extinguished when substitute Hatem Abd Elhamed got free down the right and delivered an inviting centre which Elyounoussi powered home to bring up his hat-trick.
Steve Robinson opted to go with the same line-up that won 2-0 at Livingston last time out.
Meanwhile, Celtic boss Neil Lennon made two changes to the side that lost 4-1 at home to Sparta Prague in Europa League on Thursday. Kris Ajer and Albian Ajeti returned, with Shane Duffy and Odsonne Edouard dropping to the bench.
Ntcham then added a slightly unflattering look to the final scoreline with a neat finish four minutes from time after good approach play from fellow sub Odsonne Edouard to help get the stuttering champions back to winning ways.
Man of the Match – Tom Rogic
As Sky Sports pundit Andy Walker observed at full time at Fir Park: “Rogic gives you brilliant moments. He’s a special talent.”
And boy did the Australia international provide some eye-catching moments for Celtic on Sunday, setting up Elyounoussi for a goal he could not miss, while generally running the game from midfield.
The 27-year-old’s best moment? A wonderful first-half run following a Motherwell corner that saw the midfielder glide past a posse of players, before finding Ryan Christie, only for his team-mate to blaze over the bar.
What the managers said…
Motherwell boss Stephen Robinson: “I don’t think the result reflected the performance. The scoreline suggest we got absolutely battered, I don’t think that is the case at all.
“For large periods we were in control, with or without the ball.
“We had numerous opportunities, probably the most we have had against Celtic and we didn’t take them and if you don’t take them you get punished by the quality they have.”
Celtic boss Neil Lennon: “Excellent, we were really well motivated, we looked far more like ourselves. We know we did not do ourselves just on Thursday and there was a quick turnaround, and we responded brilliantly and in the right way and it is a fantastic performance and it could have been more.
“The players’ motivation was high today and they know they can play a lot better than they’d showed and you have seen that today and it is not just about levels, we can still make inroads in Europe – maybe not qualify – but certainly put in performances which they are capable of, which we did not do on Thursday.
“I had a few choice words with them, which needed to be said, but they responded brilliantly and looked far more like ourselves, there is no question about that.
“I had a brief chat with Elyounoussi. He explained to me what had happened and that was the end of it.
“He is a top professional. I have no problem with his attitude or the way he behaves around the place. It was never an issue for me.
“You are all analysing everything we are doing at the minute. Elyounoussi on his phone and the body language and this, that and the other.
“I got what I wanted today. Elyounoussi scored a hat-trick today after being criticised unreasonably for looking at a result on his phone the other night.
“I think that’s unfair but he has responded in the right way. We asked him at half-time to go and get the hat-trick he didn’t get in Lille and it was a brilliant third goal.
“Our reaction to conceding was excellent and I thought we should have won the game by more.”
After the international break, Motherwell travel to St Johnstone, while Celtic take on Hibs at Easter Road, with both games on Saturday November 21 (3pm).