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Page last updated at 15:54 GMT, Sunday, 21 December 2008

Falkirk 0-3 Celtic

By Clive Lindsay

Kouki Mizuno celebrates his goal with the Celtic fans
Mizuno benefited from the absence of Aiden McGeady and Paul Hartley

Kouki Mizuno scored in his first Celtic start as they restored their four-point lead at the top of the Scottish Premier League by beating battling Bairns.

Georgios Samaras was denied by Falkirk goalkeeper Robert Olejnik, while Steve Lovell had an effort cleared off the Celtic goal-line before the break.

But Samaras headed home after 47 minutes following an overhead flick by strike partner Scott McDonald.

And Mizuno and McDonald both broke clear late on to score.

The fall-out from Aiden McGeady's dressing-room bust-up with Celtic manager Gordon Strachan - and Paul Hartley's illness - had been to the benefit of Japanese midfielder Mizuno.

Celtic were also without injured captain Stephen McManus, with Darren O'Dea coming into central defence and Lee Naylor replacing Mark Wilson at left-back.

But the under-strength visitors were quickly on the offensive, McDonald forcing Olejnik to beat the ball clear with a stinging shot from the edge of the box, with Andreas Hinkel's attempt to bury the rebound deflecting for a corner off Lee Bullen.

Falkirk settled and Celtic were thankful to O'Dea for keeping the scores level after 32 minutes when Lovell beat goalkeeper Artur Boruc to an Scott Arfield through ball.

The defender slid in to clear off the goal-line the Falkirk striker's steered attempt from an acute angle.

Georgios Samaras scores against Falkirk
Samaras stooped to head Celtic ahead at Falkirk Stadium

Celtic responded and McDonald sent a flashing header wide from 10 yards, then stabbed the ball past the post, following Hinkel crosses.

Samaras should have given Celtic the lead when McDonald played his strike partner through one-on-one with Olejnik, but the Greek's side-footed attempt came off the goalkeeper's outstretched foot.

Falkirk had a chance of their own on the stroke of half-time when a long through ball fell to Neil McCann eight yards from goal.

But the fit-again winger, who had come into the Falkirk side along with Chris Mitchell and Arnau Riera in preference to Kevin McBride, Gerard Aafjes and Michael Higdon, could not connect properly with his effort on the turn.

Celtic made the Bairns pay for that two minutes into the second half, when McDonald flicked the ball over his head from a throw in and Samaras stooped unmarked to head home from seven yards.

Samaras headed over from a good position as Celtic began to dominate.

But Falkirk's Mark Stewart fired a drive against the outside of Boruc's post from 25 yards only seconds after coming on as a substitute and that inspired the home team into a spell of pressure of their own.

However, it was Celtic who had the final say as Mizuno's goal sparked great celebrations and McDonald followed suit to ensure a four-point lead ahead of next weekend's meeting with second-top Rangers.

Falkirk head coach John Hughes:
"We have it a right good go. We went for it with four up front when we were 1-0 down and you always open yourself up to them getting at you.

"Stewarty hit the post and it might have changed things if that had gone in, while we might have had a penalty at the end of the first half when Neil McCann went down in the box.

"But the first goal killed us. It came from a throw in and a wee ball into the box.

"It was basic stuff and very soft, but it was the Scottish champions we were playing against and I thought we passed the ball well."

Celtic manager Gordon Strachan:
"We didn't expect to see a game like that before the match because of the conditions, so it was fantastic.

"Today the players were first class as a group. I thought they started well, Falkirk came back in to it and then we dominated again. Absolutely terrific.

"Mizuno was just ready for it today. When opportunity meets preparation, then you get that today.

"He gave us good width and pace, and he gave us a goal, but the Old Firm is totally different."

Falkirk: Olejnik, Mitchell, Holden, Bullen, Barr, McCann, Riera (Mark Stewart 75), Arfield, O'Brien, Barrett (Finnigan 75), Lovell.
Subs Not Used: Flinders, Cregg, McBride, Lynch, Scobbie.

Booked: Bullen, Mitchell, Finnigan.

Celtic: Boruc, Hinkel, Naylor, Caldwell, O'Dea, Loovens, Scott Brown, Nakamura, Mizuno, Samaras (Sheridan 90), McDonald.
Subs Not Used: Mark Brown, Wilson, Crosas, McCourt, Hutchinson, Caddis.

Booked: Mizuno.

Goals: Samaras 48, Mizuno 90, McDonald 90.

Att: 6,543

Ref: E Smith

BBC Sport Player Rater man of the match: Celtic's Kouki Mizuno 8.00 (on 90 minutes).

Please note that you can still give the players marks out of 10 on BBC Sport's Player Rater after the match has finished.

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see also
Credit crunch hits Bairns budget
21 Dec 08 |  Falkirk
Falkirk v Celtic as it happened
21 Dec 08 |  Scottish Premier
SPL photo gallery
21 Dec 08 |  Scottish Premier

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