Motherwell 1 Celtic 2: Samaras piles more pressure on Rangers

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The Independent Football

Gordon Strachan's gamble of throwing Georgios Samaras into the cauldron here paid off when the towering Greek striker bore the gift of a matchwinner that could yet see the title stay with Celtic. Samaras came off the bench and completed Celtic's comeback with a clinical 79th-minute header to widen the gap between Strachan's team and Rangers at the top of the Scottish Premier League to eight points. Their Old Firm rivals have four games in hand, starting with a hard trip to Hibernian today, but the pressure not to slip up is intense for both sides.

Third-placed Motherwell, who are seeking to qualify for the Uefa Cup, had threatened another upset in the title race when Chris Porter put them ahead on the hour but Scott McDonald swiftly cancelled that out. Asked if this put any further pressure on Rangers, Strachan said: "No, what it does is take the pressure off us for a while. We can look forward to the next game and whatever happens, happens." Celtic have just two League games left, while Rangers have a packed itinerary.

There was plenty of endeavour in the first half but few chances. Keith Lasley dragged a shot wide early on for the hosts and then Andreas Hinkel saw his raking drive slip narrowly past as Celtic replied.

It was Motherwell's young goalkeeper, Luke Daniels, who came under greater pressure when Gary Caldwell met Shunsuke Nakamura's deep free-kick into the box and headed across goal, where Daniels was grateful to a defender who blocked Aiden McGeady's far post shot after the goalkeeper's fumble.

However, the deadlock was broken when Porter was rewarded for his hard work. The striker ghosted in behind Bobo Baldé to meet Lasley's cross and thumped a header past Artur Boruc. The champions though swept down the pitch, with McGeady's trickery bemusing Motherwell before he switched play to Nakamura, whose cross was perfect for McDonald to head into the roof of the net.

Eleven minutes from time, Baldé won a corner and Barry Robson's delivery picked out Samaras and the striker stooped to head past Daniels. Motherwell were unlucky not to equalise when Brian McLean's downward header seemed netbound until Boruc pawed it wide of the post.