Influential Georgios Samaras nets on return to Celtic side and shows fans what they've missed

CELTIC striker Georgios Samaras may well have returned too late to make any real difference in his side's Champions League encounter with Juventus.

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Georgios Samaras marked his return to the Celtic starting line-up with a goal
Georgios Samaras marked his return to the Celtic starting line-up with a goal

The Greek forward has been a huge player for the Scottish champions – perhaps their most influential individual in fact – in Europe this season.

Yet helping Neil Lennon's team overturn the 3-0 deficit in the second leg of the last-16 encounter with Juve in Turin is surely beyond him.

Nevertheless, the sight of their cult hero in the starting line-up once again against Motherwell at Fir Park last night was heartening for Hoops fans.

Samaras had not been involved since the 4-1 thrashing of Kilmarnock at Celtic Park way back on January 30 due to a torn hamstring.

He was – understandably given the length of time he has been missing – not at his very best playing in a two-man frontline alongside Anthony Stokes.

But he put in a typically industrious shift, won the majority of his aerial challenges and popped up with an equaliser in the second half.

The 28-year-old was unable to prevent his injury-depleted team from slumping to a 2-1 defeat to resolute opponents who converted their chances better.

Yet the 6ft 3in player gives his team an out-ball up top, a Plan B they can revert to if the favoured brand of passing football fails to achieve the desired result.

With Samaras fit and available for selection once again, Celtic can travel out to Italy next week confident that, at the very least, they can acquit themselves well.

Before then, Celtic have the not so small matter of St Mirren – their conquerors in the League Cup semi-final – in the Scottish Cup on Saturday to contend with.

Lennon, who has several key personnel injured or doubtful for the short journey to Paisley, will be pleased to have Samaras at his disposal in that tricky quarter-final.

There are many Celtic fans who, despite their adoration of and affection for the young Kenyan, do not particularly like to see Victor Wanyama deployed at centre-half.

On the evidence of some of his defensive play in the Clydesdale Bank Premier League game with Motherwell last night it was easy to understand their misgivings.

With Kelvin Wilson unwell and Efe Ambrose rested and on the replacements' bench, he partnered Thomas Rogne in the heart of the visitors' rearguard.

But the 21-year-old – whose yellow card ensures he misses next month's SPL clash against Aberdeen – looked distinctly uncomfortable in that role at Motherwell's opening goal in 31 minutes. Henrik Ojamaa fed Nicky Law who tormented his rival mercilessly before playing a pass across the face of goal that Chris Humphrey hammered into the roof of the net.

To be fair to Wanyama, he did not let his head go down after the setback. He stuck determinedly to his task and made some crucial blocks in the second half.

Still, when he moved forward into his favoured midfield berth when Ambrose replaced Beram Kayal on the hour mark he looked more assured.

It was no coincidence that Celtic snatched the equaliser shortly after the change. James Forrest broke down the right flank, whipped a cross into the six-yard box and Samaras nodded home from close range. James McFadden made his first start for Motherwell since signing a short-term deal until the end of the campaign.

The presence of the former Scotland hero, who has been linked repeatedly with moves to his boyhood heroes Celtic during his career, in Stuart McCall's side added spice to the match. McFadden had some nice touches, but, having only played briefly as a substitute against Dundee United at Ross County last week, did not trouble Celtic greatly.

The former Everton and Birmingham City man would have been proud of the deft chip that set up Michael Higdon for the winning goal in the 73rd minute.

Law, deservedly man of the match, dinked the ball over the head of left-back Emilio Izaguirre and Higdon made no mistake.

It was the Englishman's 18th strike in the SPL this term, his 19th in total and it helped propel Well into second spot in the table. Celtic, whose lead was cut to 19 points, certainly fought until referee Iain Brines had blown the final whistle and created a plethora of goalscoring opportunities.

Lennon replaced his central midfield pair of Kayal and Tom Rogic with Joe Ledley and Wanyama and those switches had the desired impact.

Forrest, Samaras, Gary Hooper and Kris Commons all could have levelled in the closing exchanges had their finishing been more clinical or if Darren Randolph in the home goal had not been so alert. Scott Brown, Mikael Lustig, Charlie Mulgrew and Wilson were all missed.

Still, Celtic should have dealt with those absences. The best result of the night for manager Neil Lennon was getting Georgios Samaras back.

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