Motherwell 1 Celtic 1: Smith's strike proves mettle of Steelmen

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The Independent Online

Celtic's loathe affair with Fir Park continues after they allowed Darren Smith to snatch an injury-time equaliser yesterday which gave the champions their third draw in four games in the Scottish Premier League. It was Scott McDonald, whose two late goals here in May 2005 robbed Celtic of the title on the last day of the season, who set up the teenager's first goal for Motherwell, cancelling out Derek Riordan's 37th-minute opener.

It was a merited point for the Steelmen, who gave the leaders a thorough examination. "We looked to have run out of luck but kept going to get our reward," said their manager, Maurice Malpas.

The acquisition of Steven Pressley on Friday underlined Gordon Strachan's constant search for perfection. The SPL champions might enjoy a healthy lead again but their manager is not content to leave his team alone.

Pressley watched from the stand and the former Hearts captain must have noted Riordan, who had waited six months for his first league start since leaving Hibernian last summer, such is the ferocity of the competition for places at Celtic. Riordan's hunger was evident in the first half.

He curled a shot narrowly wide after four minutes before his colleague, Kenny Miller, induced panic in the defence after escaping Mark Reynolds. Miller had his shirt tugged as he ran into the box and, off-balance, dragged his shot past the post.

Motherwell, though, were always in the contest and McDonald's fine work ought to have been rewarded in the 21st minute, but his cutback to David Clarkson was missed by his partner. Riordan then brought a save out of Graeme Smith and narrowly missed with a header. It was not surprising that when Celtic did break the deadlock, it was Riordan who scored.

Shunsuke Nakamura's grace embellished the move before he unleashed a raking shot that was parried by Smith for Riordan to seize on the rebound for his first Celtic goal. However, three minutes before the interval Artur Boruc had to produce a sublime moment of goalkeeping to deny Motherwell an equaliser with a double save. The first came from Clarkson's fierce right-foot shot and then he acrobatically beat away Richie Foran's volley.

Motherwell remained a threat through the second half, with McDonald forcing a miskick from Boruc that resulted in Steven McGarry's effort flashing across the goal. Celtic were trying to edge over the finishing line, and would have done so had Thomas Gravesen not clubbed a 25-yard shot against the post. They ran out of steam in stoppage time, when the substitute Smith equalised.

The goal was due to entirely to McDonald, who chased a lost cause to hustle Paul Telfer into an error near his own box. The striker's shot was parried by Boruc but Smith collected the loose ball to stab it into the net and prompt wild celebrations by the Motherwell support.