THE end just belied the meanness of what Celtic gave to the first period yesterday. The erratic nature of his team is what has undermined Ronny Deila’s tenure. Ultimately, though, despite looking second best to an impressive Inverness Caledonian Thistle for 45 minutes, the day delivered for the Scottish champions.
The serenity of a six-point lead over Aberdeen was secured with a 3-0 win earned with a double that continued 32-goal Leigh Griffiths’ remarkable scoring form.
Moreover, home huff and puff gave way to breezy play in the closing stages as Scott Allan, Ryan Christie and £12m Manchester City on-loan winger Patrick Roberts formed the attacking trident behind Griffiths.
Perhaps it was easy for the trio owing to the fact that, as soon as Celtic went two-up on the hour, John Hughes’ side lost the belief that threatened to see them take a second monumental scalp across a week that began with Monday’s defeat of Aberdeen.
However, there was no question that the crowd cursing with consternation were lifted by Allan and Christie’s 20-odd minute cameos – the latter given his longest run in a Celtic jersey – and the ten minutes that showed Roberts’ pace and directness which might have brought him a couple of goals. Allan too could have finished off a couple of smart moves.
Deila defended the men these three replaced, with opening scorer Gary Mackay-Steven praised for tiring out teams and the solidity offered by fans-favourite-to-barrack Stefan Johansen and Stuart Armstrong.
Yet he acknowledged there were serious issues with his team’s approach. “In the first half we didn’t create enough, it was sideways and too slow, but in the second half we are more direct and get more movement and also the subs coming on were lively, that’s a positive thing.”
Deila accepted that “flair” was offered by their replacements, and Christie himself warmed to such a theme.
“I think me and Scotty and Patrick are all similar players and want to show a bit of flair and get on the ball and are desperate to get on the park and show what we can do,” the former Inverness player said, admitting it was “a strange experience” to come on “against boys I played with a couple of months ago”.
But his mind soon channelled to other thoughts: “As soon as all of us step on the park we want to prove a point. We are trying to make an impact to get in that starting XI, so we’re all raring to go. Obviously I’m just in the door and back from injury so I’m finding my feet right now but it is a great team to be part of and I can definitely see a big future with the young talent we’ve got.”
Yet, the opening period was all about Inverness’s talent for playing smart, compact football with an intensity and sharpness that made a sluggish Celtic appear entirely inadequate. Marc Warren passed up a glaring free header, Ross Draper did not make the most of a shooting opportunity and a 4-v-2 break was not capitalised on. The turning point, though, came in the opening minutes of the second period when Jordan Roberts, clean through on goal after outpacing Erik Sviatchenko, shot straight at a grateful Craig Gordon.
The price for that was paid when the ball was pushed around the box by a number of players before Mackay-Steven struck with a thunderbolt drive in the 53rd minute. Within seven minutes Griffiths had settled all home anxieties when he collected a pass with his back to goal, spun sweetly and darted past a couple of markers before slotting into the far corner. A clinical finish, that was matched by his slotted-in low effort in the final seconds that followed Christie feeding Allan to tee him up from 20 yards.
“In terms of my boys I can’t ask any more from them,” said Hughes. “They are giving me everything that they have got. On another day if we took our chances it might have been a different game. I thought our shape was very, very good.
“I felt we gave as good as we got in the first half. We frustrated them with our passing. And just through experience I knew that chances would come with the shape that we had set up and they did. So that is the first half done and dusted – great, well done lads. Don’t get complacent. Because I have been here before and it is 0-0 at half time and they score in the first five after the break. So to lose it ten minutes in was bitterly disappointing.”