Scott Sinclair strikes for Celtic to beat Partick
SCOTT SINCLAIR scored the only goal of the game as Celtic struggled past bottom side Partick Thistle to go 14 points clear at the top of the Ladbrokes Premiership.
The 27-year-old winger, one of eight changes to the Hoops line-up, notched the winner in the 16th minute with a clipped strike from 16 yards. Thistle - beaten 4-1 at home by the champions 11 days ago - more than played their part, but passed up several chances before and after Sinclair's effort as Celtic stretched their unbeaten domestic run to 21 games.
Brendan Rodgers' men also missed opportunities at a sodden Parkhead, but it was far from a vintage display from the home side who also have the luxury of a game in hand over second-placed Rangers.
Rodgers had promised an injection of youth into his squad but in the event only 18-year-old Calvin Miller, primarily a forward, was handed his debut at left-back. Skipper Scott Brown, back from suspension, Sinclair, Mikael Lustig, Callum McGregor, Liam Henderson, Patrick Roberts and Moussa Dembele all returned.
Despite the length of the league separating the sides, Thistle started positively. Forward Ryan Edwards got past Hoops defender Jozo Simunovic in the fifth minute but his drive was easily saved by Craig Gordon before the home goalkeeper parried an angled drive from Ade Azeez, gathering it at the second attempt.
However, a minute after Jags defender Liam Lindsay half-volleyed a Sean Welsh corner high over the bar, Celtic took the lead. Maryhill defender Callum Booth was booked by referee Euan Anderson for a foul on overlapping right-back Cristian Gamboa and Henderson rolled the free-kick from outside of the box inside to the unmarked Sinclair, who smartly fired high past Partick Thistle goalkeeper Tomas Cerny for his 11th goal of the season.
Miller had his chance for glory in the 29th minute when he ventured up into the Thistle box and took a Sinclair pass, but his side-footed drive from 14 yards was straight at Cerny.
Celtic were still not in top gear and Thistle should have levelled in the 37th minute, when Edwards sped past Brown and played in Azeez but, with only Gordon to beat, he lacked conviction and the Scotland goalkeeper blocked the shot for a corner which came to nothing.
The league leaders upped the tempo at the start of the second half and in the 52nd minute Cerny made a fine save from Roberts' close-range drive. But Thistle kept driving forward when they could and they claimed optimistically for a penalty when Edwards' cross appeared to strike Miller's arm, but referee Anderson was right to ignore.
Emilio Izaguirre replaced the tiring Miller after the hour mark, but moments later Thistle defender Ziggy Gordon raced on to a David Amoo pass down that flank and all the way into the Celtic box before screwing his shot wide.
At the other end, Sinclair took advantage of a break of the ball to go clean through on goal but was denied by Cerny, before the Parkhead attacker made way for Stuart Armstrong.
As the sides swapped opportunities, the Thistle keeper foiled Dembele before Welsh fired straight at Gordon. Rodgers sent on Leigh Griffiths for Dembele in the 75th minute - the 20-year-old French striker has not scored from open play since October 26 - to cheers from the home supporters, but it was Armstrong who stung the hands of Cerny with a long-range effort, although it was the home fans who were happiest to hear the final whistle.
Celtic: Gordon, Gamboa, Lustig, Simunovic, Miller (Izaguirre 63), Roberts, Henderson, Brown, McGregor, Sinclair (Armstrong 69), Dembele (Griffiths 76); Subs Not Used: Bitton, Mackay-Steven, De Vries, Sviatchenko; Booked: Simunovic, Izaguirre; Goals: Sinclair 16.
Partick: Cerny, Gordon, Devine, Lindsay, Booth, Welsh (Barton 76), Edwards, Osman, Lawless, Amoo (Erskine 68), Azeez (Doolan 82); Subs Not Used: Elliot, Wilson, McDaid, Stuckmann; Booked: Booth, Welsh.
Ref: E Anderson (Scotland).