Celtic 3 Falkirk 0: Maloney adds dash of panache to return

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The Independent Football

Any doubts that Shaun Maloney had about how he would be received at Celtic Park have surely been banished. The prodigal son may not have scored on his second Celtic debut, but Maloney lit up the place and heard the sweet sound of his name echoing around the ground.

Maloney left under a cloud for Aston Villa 18 months ago, but an influential hour's contribution – making both of Georgios Samaras's goals with deft touches – means that Celtic are level with Rangers at the top of the SPL before next Sunday's Old Firm encounter here.

Gordon Strachan had two new signings to unveil and if Glenn Loovens was fortunate that an injury to Gary Caldwell provided him with a debut after his £2.5 million midweek move from Cardiff City, Maloney had to settle for a place on the bench.

Falkirk play crisp football and a delightful move down the right in the 18th minute ended with Scott Arfield conjuring up a volley that was beaten away by Artur Boruc. However, just before the half hour, Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink was carried off after a bad lunge by Lee Bullen and that allowed Maloney to enter the fray.

It took him only two minutes to make an impact. The little striker was brought down by Gerard Aafjes and Shunsuke Nakamura whipped in a free-kick that was met by the stooping McManus and he bulleted the ball beyond Robert Olejnik.

Celtic doubled their lead in the 44th minute with a move which illustrated what Maloney can give them. The 2006 Scottish Player of the Year showed great pace to gather Mark Wilson's pass inside his own half and advance 40 yards before threading the ball to Samaras, who rounded Olejnik and found the net from a tight angle.

Maloney looked as if he would mark the occasion with a goal when Aiden McGeady released him after the break but Bullen did enough to distract him. Then a deft flick from Maloney set up Samaras but his tame effort was kept out by Olejnik. The Greek striker, though, atoned when he applied the finishing touch to a move which saw the ball transferred to every area of the pitch, before Scott Brown's pass was cheekily backheeled by Maloney into the run of Samaras and he advanced before drilling a low shot under Olejnik.