Scott Brown's red card dampens mood at table-topping Celtic

A siege mentality has developed at Celtic Park this season.

Scott Brown's red card dampens mood at table-topping Celtic The place routinely reverberates to chants that are none-too kind about referees.

There are times when even fanatics realise the stupidity of players. This proved one such occasion. Celtic were not exactly cantering to victory over Motherwell as stoppage time approached, but they seemed in little danger of conceding an equaliser when Scott Brown displayed his latest regrettable act.

The Celtic captain, already on a yellow card, lunged at the Motherwell full-back Stevie Hammell. Cue a second booking and suspension for Sunday's Old Firm game.

"If you see it again, Scott has done everything he can to pull out of the tackle," argued the Celtic manager Neil Lennon. "I am very disappointed with the decision, amongst many. If you want my thoughts about referees, you can forget it. Scott's left foot gave way. We are pretty upset about it."

Lennon's bullish defence aside, Brown's actions with the ball 20 yards from Motherwell's goal were totally needless. Hammell explained he had sought to jump out the way after seeing the tackle coming. The fact Brown received two bookings rather than a straight red card leaves no route for appeal.

Postponements and upcoming fixture congestion make it tricky to gauge momentum in this Scottish Premier League title race. What can be said is that Celtic will cross Glasgow as the league leaders. Rangers have two games in hand over their rivals, who hold a one-point advantage.

While Celtic's motivation was with the weekend in mind, Motherwell's players had their own cause to impress. The club will unveil Stuart McCall as their new manager tomorrow afternoon, the former Rangers midfielder having been selected as the successor to Craig Brown. McCall watched this match from the directors' box.

His early moments would have been anxious. Celtic, whose recent home form has been poor, should have taken the lead within 90 seconds. Emilio Izaguirre managed to blaze over from six yards after Darren Randolph had parried a Joe Ledley shot.

There were rare Celtic starting appearances for Olivier Kapo and Paddy McCourt. Kapo lasted 38 minutes after incurring a hamstring injury, McCourt's evening proving more profitable.

The enigmatic Irishman had squandered a headed opportunity by the time he scored the solitary goal. McCourt jinked inside two visiting defenders before supplying a cool, curling finish. Ledley should have inflicted further damage on Motherwell but fired wide when sent through on goal by Kapo.

Onlookers could only wonder what Freddie Ljungberg was making of this frantic stuff. The former Arsenal midfielder was among the crowd as he continues a trial period at Celtic. Ljungberg, thought to be seeking £20,000 a week and an 18-month deal, was at least appraised of Scottish football's physical nature. "Freddie's representatives will be in again in the morning and we can hopefully get something bedded down," added Lennon.

Motherwell's attacking intensified after the interval, although they appeared unlikely or unable to meaningfully trouble the Celtic goal.

What the visitors' improvement did achieve was to liven up the contest further.

Parkhead hosts a lot of tame, subdued encounters over the course of a domestic campaign, but this was not one of them. The crowd was noticeably higher in both number and volume than has been the case over the last four matches.

Perhaps Old Firm fever had arrived a few days early. For Brown, it proved as close as he will get.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Ewan Murray at Celtic Park, for guardian.co.uk on Wednesday 29th December 2010 22.05 Europe/London

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010

Register for HITC Sport - Daily Dispatch