Strachan gets what-for over the four-four

Motherwell 4 Celtic 4

Craig Beattie may have rescued a point for Strachan with an injury-time equaliser on the opening day of the Scottish Premier League season but their fans greeted the final whistle with a hail of jeers and Martin O'Neill's replacement is rapidly losing the battle for hearts and minds.

The stark reality is that Celtic have now lost nine goals in the short, but wretched, 180 minutes of Strachan's reign. Humiliated 5-0 in midweek by Artmedia Bratislava in the Champions' League, they surrendered a two-goal advantage provided by John Hartson's first-half hat-trick and wilted as Motherwell even went 4-3 up when Willie Kinniburgh scored with just six minutes left.

Strachan admitted on Friday that the pain of his Celtic baptism in Bratislava was unlikely to leave him, even if he went on to emulate Jock Stein's 13 years in the manager's seat at the club. This, though, must have come close to it.

He suffered here just as O'Neill did in May, when Celtic threw away the title on the final day by conceding two late goals. Though he dropped the hapless Bobo Balde for his complicity in three of the goals in Bratislava, Stan Varga was shredded by Motherwell's Scott McDonald and Strachan's new full-back recruits, Paul Telfer and Mo Camara, were dreadful.

"I don't think anyone could explain how a team loses nine goals in two games," reflected a pale Strachan afterwards. "We have a problem. There is no doubt about that. We must sort it out but what we can't do is panic - that would be the worst thing to do."

Goodness only knows what Shunsuke Nakamura made of it all. The slender Japan playmaker, whom Strachan signed just 24 hours earlier from Reggina for £2.7m, was watching in the stand. Serie A, it was not. This was frenetic soccer, Scottish-style. The SPL is no place for faint hearts.

Celtic soothed their early nerves after 14 minutes as Hartson hit the first goal of the Strachan regime. A clever exchange of passes between Alan Thompson and Stilian Petrov saw the former whip over a great cross to the back post that was met by Hartson, rising above Kinniburgh, to bullet a header into the roof of the net. Confidence visibly flooded into the Celtic players but they could not prevent Brian Kerr equalising after 20 minutes. A passage of crisp passing between Alan McCormack and Phil O'Donnell saw the latter release Kerr. The midfielder has been out for a year since joining from Newcastle United with a knee injury but showed no rustiness as he swept a composed left-foot finish past David Marshall.

Hartson, though, produced an emphatic response after 32 minutes when he restored their lead. Yet again the cross came from the left, this time from the boot of Aiden McGeady, and Hartson stretched to connect with the ball which arced away from his head beyond the Motherwell goalkeeper Gordon Marshall to creep in at the far post.

One minute before the interval, the Welshman collected his third goal. A sublime Celtic move, which had begun with Hartson in midfield, saw Thompson and Shaun Maloney carve Motherwell open, Maloney threading a neat pass into the run of Petrov who was brought down by Marshall as he went round the keeper. Hartson drilled the subsequent penalty kick straight down the middle.

Celtic, however, packed away their tools too early and that lead was wiped out after the interval. Jim Hamilton stole in unmarked to head McCormack's cross past Celtic's Marshall after 58 minutes to reduce the deficit and then, remarkably, McDonald equalised two minutes later.

The man whose two goals here in May ripped Celtic's title dreams apart found space in the box to steer home a header from Steven Hammell's cross and Motherwell's vibrancy was further rewarded when Kinniburgh met Hamilton's chip to head the fourth past the bewildered Marshall.

Strachan looked traumatised. Beattie provided one final twist by reaching Hartson's flick from Marshall's long ball, bursting past Kinniburgh to stab the ball beyond the other Marshall. The reaction, though, was relief, not celebration.

Strachan rather optimistically attempted to put a gloss on things ahead of the second leg at home to Artmedia. "In an attacking sense, it gives us a bit hope for Tuesday after we scored four goals," he said.

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