Sutton sees red to mar victory

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The Independent Football

Chris Sutton made his mark on his Parkhead baptism, but not in the way he expected. Chelsea's expensive misfit was controversially sent off 10 minutes from the end of this fraught encounter, as Celtic limped home with only nine men.

Chris Sutton made his mark on his Parkhead baptism, but not in the way he expected. Chelsea's expensive misfit was controversially sent off 10 minutes from the end of this fraught encounter, as Celtic limped home with only nine men.

Sutton's dismissal for a second bookable offence, each involving his marker Greg Strong, seemed harsh as both were guilty of wrestling, but it brought an explosion of anger from Martin O'Neill, who went eyeball to eyeball with thereferee Alan Freeland.

Celtic's new manager had earlier watched Jackie McNamara join Motherwell's expelled John Davies in the dressing-room, and Stilian Petrov's decisive goal was, it seemed at times, too slender an advantage.

There was scarcely an empty seat in the house to witness the first home league game under O'Neill. It was also Sutton's opening bow at the theatre of green, though he had eased any misgivings his new supporters may have about his ability with the winning goal in last Sunday's opening match at Dundee United.

Yet Motherwell are not a team to accept a supporting role. They took seven points out of 12 from Celtic in last season's four encounters and were the only team in the Scottish Premier League to inflict defeat on both halves of the Old Firm.

Motherwell's confidence was vibrantly underlined after just two minutes when they almost forged their way ahead. Paul Harvey's shot was spilled by the goalkeeper Jonathan Gould but, before another Motherwell forward could reach the loose ball, Tom Boyd played a captain's role for Celtic with a timely clearance.

The Glasgow side wisely heeded the warning and squeezed the visitors into their own half. The pressure told with a booking for Davies for scything down Petrov, but the young Bulgarian midfielder took revenge when he fired Celtic in front after 10 minutes.

Eyal Berkovic's cross into the box was headed out by the Motherwell defence, but only as far as Paul Lambert, who picked out Petrov, and the midfielder displayed sublime control with his chest before beating Andy Goram with a searing right-foot volley.

With the pressure which frequently accompanies their games with Motherwell lifted, Celtic proceeded to turn on the style. Berkovic's scampering run set up Henrik Larsson and, though the Swede had little room for a shot, he found tremendous power for the right-foot drive which Goram was relieved to beat out.

Sutton, in contrast, was having a quieter time than his new striking partner. However,his physical strength wastroubling his marker, Strong.

Eventually, Strong cracked in the 25th minute with a dreadful challenge from the back on Sutton, which earned the former Bolton defender a booking, but Sutton's foolish reaction also cost him a caution.

Worse followed for Motherwell, when they were reduced to 10 men eight minutes before half-time. Davies proved his earlier booking had not had the desired effect when he hauled Petrov down again after the Bulgarian had left him for dead. Berkovic ought to have added to the punishment by widening the gap, but could only steer his shot straight at Goram after Sutton's foraging had given him a clear sight of goal.

Motherwell were not ready to submit, though. They regained their poise and their discipline with a solid 20-minute shift after half-time which dampened Celtic's powder.

No one suffered more than Sutton. For a man who has cost around £20m in transfer fees, he was surprisingly easily contained by Benito Kemble, a centre-back Motherwell acquired for nothing.

Sutton does not possess the touch of his predecessor, Mark Viduka, and his typically robust style exceeded the legal limits as he squandered a good chance in the 59th minute by pushing Kemble out of the way after McNamara had dropped a precision cross into the six-yard box.

Petrov, though, remained the greatest thorn in Motherwell's side. Kemble, who was treading a thin line after a booking for fouling Larsson before the interval, and Stephen McMillan both gave away fouls for halting Petrov's progress.

From the latter, Paul Lambert's free-kick broke into the path of Sutton but a familiar lack of luck accompanied the striker's effort, as his fierce shot struck the base of the post, with Goram beaten, and bounced clear.

However, the physical side of the game was making another expulsion an inevitability. The second red card finally came in the 67th minute, when McNamara was sent off after picking up two cautions in as many minutes.

The Celtic midfielder saw yellow for his tackle on Lee McCulloch, and then dived into a challenge with Kemble, who appeared to dive, and the sides were evened up.

Celtic never made it to the safety of the dressing-room with those 10 men intact, as Sutton's controversial red card brought the curtain down on a torrid day.