With friends like this, who needs enemies. Mark McGhee may have been close to Gordon Strachan for 30 years but that did not stop the Motherwell manager inflicting a fatal blow to his Celtic counterpart's ambitions of a third successive title. Simon Lappin's predatory first-half finish wrecked Celtic's home record and killed the champions' lingering hopes of catching Rangers, who now travel to Dundee United today in the knowledge that they have a six-point cushion and two games in hand.
The return of Neil Lennon to Celtic on Friday appeared to have an effect. Strachan may have recruited his former captain as a coach but clearly he valued Lennon's influence upon the players who needed a lift after the Old Firm defeat last weekend. Lennon spent the entire first half sat on the edge of the dug-out and must have been pleased at what he saw. Celtic shredded Motherwell with their movement and did everything but put the ball in the net.
They ought to have gone in front after seven minutes when Massimo Donati robbed Paul Quinn and advanced into the box. The Italian should then have picked out Scott McDonald but eschewed the striker for a shot that was beaten away by the goalkeeper, Graeme Smith.
Eleven minutes later, Celtic came even closer. Aiden McGeady shredded Quinn yet again and flighted a perfect cross for Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink, only for the Dutch striker to thump his header against the bar.
Against that weight of pressure, Motherwell somehow conjured up the goal that broke the deadlock. Quinn's quick free-kick on the halfway line picked out Ross McCormack, who found Marc Fitzpatrick. His venomous shot was parried by Artur Boruc and Lappin volleyed in the rebound. The second half was scarcely any different in terms of the pattern of play, especially after Motherwell were reduced to 10 men in the 53rd minute. Bob Malcolm slid into Donati with a raised boot and then took a sly kick at the back of the prone midfielder.
McGeady came close with a raking shot and then Smith made a remarkable save from Andreas Hinkel's overhead kick in the 70th minute.
The final moments saw Boruc camped in Motherwell's box to join the quest for a goal. Georgios Samaras produced a great turn and his shot was netbound in stoppage time, but Smith broke Celtic hearts with the vital save.
* Ross County beat Berwick 4-0 to win the Scottish Second Division.