By Joe Behan
Glasgow Celtic beat Motherwell 1-0 with a glorious 10th-minute goal by Stilian Petrov, but the presence of Chris Sutton, or indeed his rejection from the game, dimmed the limelight for the Bulgarian and Celtic.
Hoops manager Martin O’Neill thought Sutton’s sending off was "pretty harsh" and he was shocked by referee Alan Freeland’s decision. Perhaps Sutton’s background in the game is catching up with him. O’Neill wasn’t the only one defending his £6 million man. Motherwell’s Greg Strong insisted that his contest with Sutton was hard but fair; it was just a tangle and they were both running for the ball, in the red card incident.
Strong was also involved many times with Jackie McNamara, who received a silly red card along with Motherwell’s John Davies. The referee had a nightmare and was booed off the field. He booked Sutton in the first half for what Strong said was just a tussle for advantage. Then came the sending off, which O’Neill said was a 50-50 and the free could have gone either way.
The Celtic boss knows his side can play better but claimed they may have been a bit nervous. If O’Neill were to go to town on his bhoys, then Chris Sutton would have been first in the firing squad. The Irishman has chosen his game analysis very carefully and for sure with Chris Sutton’s sending off in mind.
A marked man
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It had taken Sutton only two games to get sent off for Celtic. While O’Neill and even opponent Strong said his red card was an injustice, the fact remains, he was sent off. Sutton has built a bad reputation as a professional who loses his composure very easily, but perhaps O’Neill has some control over the feisty forward.
Sutton won a physical battle with Benito Kemble, which created a chance for Celtic. Then he hit the post early in the second period when the referee began to lose control of the game. Yes, he kept his cool even though he was fouled time and time again, but it was his teammate McNamara who lost his composure. We’ve all seen it, teammates do that kind of thing, but nowadays we expect ability in football to seek revenge rather than lashing out. It is uncharacteristic of McNamara to behave the way he did, but this is the kind of impact Chris Sutton has on his teammates and on Parkhead.
Make no mistake about it, Motherwell’s manager, Billy Davies, had his players provoke and entice Sutton into irrational behavior, not the most difficult of tasks. The burly center forward found himself in several tangles throughout the game. The Motherwell players were up for it and were responding to Davies’s demand for a tougher performance. But tackling from behind, like the chopping of Henrik Larson by Kemble, is not the way to go.
While Sutton remained cool under all the pressure he was under, and credit must be given for that, his past has indeed caught up with him and whether he likes it or not, he is a marked target.
It can not be forgotten too easily some of the violent acts he committed. His discipline in the EPL is probably the main reason he is playing in Scotland. No club really wanted him after he was yet again misfitted at Chelsea. It’s not that he was at fault in the game against Motherwell; he simply will not be able to play a normal game for the rest of his career. He is on one of the biggest stages in the world for intensity and wait until we see the old firm clash. If Martin O’Neill is going to use the excuse of being nervous to cater to Sutton, he shouldn’t start him against Rangers. Sutton is out next week for the game against Kilmarnock.
Is Parkhead fired up or what? O’Neill himself was warned for encroaching outside his dugout too often. He is not going to change. He is unable to curtail his explosive personality, angry or elated.
The confidence in the Celtic side shown in the earlier stages of the game will be the area O’Neill will work on. McNamara showed glimpses of his old self and he was a handful of trouble down the left. Petrov, looking a lot slimmer than last year, linked really well with Paul Lambert and they controlled possession.
Celtic were in control of the game, which does not come as a surprise, but finishing the game with nine men is something they are not used to. The hoops will not get away with this kind of performance against European sides and indeed Rangers, who are struggling a little themselves.
Rangers feel the heat
Rangers came from behind again to win 4-2 against Kilmarnock. When you see the likes of Claudio Reyna kicking Andy McLaren in the back, it makes you cringe that such a talented player has succumbed to such antics. Referee Tom Brown turned the game on its head with the controversial red card for Kilmarnock’s Kevin McGowne.
All part of the game perhaps. Rangers manager Dick Advocaat said his players played like a bunch of amateurs. Players at the club are said to be unhappy and are not giving 100 percent.
The arrival of O’Neill at Parkhead has stirred a lot of passion and Sutton will only add fuel to the fire. The hoops manager is about to hand in his proposed restructuring plan, which obviously includes how to take over Scottish domestic soccer, said to be Martin O’Neill’s top priority.
Meanwhile, Celtic begin a UEFA Cup campaign this Thursday against Juenesse in Luxembourg. O’Neill said: "We must look at the domestic situation first, but that doesn’t necessarily stop me getting a European run going."
European tests for Celtic and Rangers are just around the corner. That’s when we hope to get a real measure of things to come in the Scottish Premier League.