Sutton form too rich for poor Partick

Celtic 3 Partick Thistle 1
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The Independent Football

The Scottish Premier League may be consumed by fears of debt, but Celtic banked another three points yesterday to leap eight ahead of Rangers in the title race. Chris Sutton is a £6m man who can claim to offer value for money. His double against Partick Thistle took his total to nine goals in six games.

Poor Partick have laboured all season without reward. This was their 14th game in the League and they have yet to taste a victory. If Bayern Munich could not score at Parkhead in last week's Cham- pions' League, and everyone from Juventus to Valencia had been beaten in the remarkable 65-game unbeaten run assembled by Martin O'Neill's side, what chance had Thistle?

However, if points are scarce for Glasgow's third club, then they have wasted no time this week in making a few. The reason for their tenure at the foot of the table lies in the fact that they pay the lowest wages.

Gerry Collins had to recruit 12 players during the summer, but losing his top scorer, Alex Burns, and Stephen Craigan to Motherwell, a club who are in administration yet could offer better pay, has galled the Thistle manager.

Given Dundee's step into administration last week with debts of £20m, Thistle - who have run a financially tight ship since their fans' cash staved off closure in 1997 - feel they are being penalised for playing the game.

"We know the tide will turn soon and we'll get a win," Collins said yesterday, "but we're paying for staying in the black. Dundee won't be the last. The SPL is bankrupt." However, Collins' ragtag collection of players gave Celtic a better test than almost any other team visiting Parkhead this season. Indeed, they stunned the 58,202 crowd by taking the lead after just 12 minutes. James Grady rose to meet a free-kick swung in by Derek Fleming, thumping his header in off the underside of the bar. It was Grady's second goal against Celtic this season, which represents two-fifths of the meagre total conceded by the leaders.

However, Henrik Larsson resumed normal service on 23 minutes with his 17th goal of the season. Momo Sylla's cross was controlled by Sutton, whose first attempt to find Larsson was cut out by Derek Whyte, but Sutton seized on the rebound to set up his partner, who dashed into the gap and steered a shot beyond Partick's goalkeeper, Kenny Arthur.

Celtic's pressure thereafter was as incessant as the rain which deluged Parkhead, and finally Sutton put them in front 13 minutes later after Jean Anis had brought down Ross Wallace, to allow Larsson to drive a low free-kick that was steered past Arthur by Sutton's left boot.

Then, on the hour, Sutton struck again. His long diagonal ball from defence had picked out Larsson, who exchanged passes with Liam Miller before showing great vision to find Sutton, whose 60-yard run ended with an emphatic right-foot finish.