The returning Moussa Dembele scored his first goal of the season as Celtic reaffirmed their domestic dominance with a crushing 4-0 win over Ross County.
It is tempting to see the events of yesterday at Celtic Park as being in complete contrast to those in midweek: Brendan Rodgers’ men back to their blitzing ways after being blitzed by Paris Saint-Germain.
Yet, for all that, in going for 55 – domestic games unbeaten that is – Celtic weren’t as far removed Ross County as the Parisians were from them. Even as they ran the Highland club ragged.
Therein lies the rub. The Celtic manager revealed after a canter of a win, one in which his Dingwall counterpart Jim McIntyre admitted his team suffered “wave after wave of attack”, that he effectively used yesterday’s encounter as an experiment.
Rodgers rested Kieran Tierney completely, swapped five players from the team tortured by PSG, switched to a 3-5-2 and gave a first start after two months out with injury to Moussa Dembele in the rare role as striking partner to Leigh Griffiths. And none of these unusual elements had any effect on Celtic being able to do their usual number on a domestic opponent.
Dembele netted on his return, while Tom Rogic proved unplayable for the visitors in a scoring display that eclipsed even the second-half double from James Forrest.
Celtic won eight and dew one of the nine games they played directly after Champions League games last season and McIntyre acknowledged the emphatic victory they produced yesterday wasn’t so much a reaction to the midweek humbling as simply what they do.
“The mentality Brendan has instilled in the squad you would get that performance regardless of what the result was the other night,” the County manager said. “Of course they are going to be hurting and are going to want a bounce back. You lose games here it is crisis so we knew what we would be facing and expected a few changes. When they make changes they seem quite seamless and the quality is not diluted as well.”
The die was cast from the moment Rogic rolled it with a pop from the edge of the area in the 13th minute that he lashed in at the near post. Dembele announced his return with a first goal in six months three minutes before half-time when Griffiths fed him and made a decoy run that allowed the Frenchman to curl a low effort in at the far corner from the left-hand edge of the box.
McIntyre lamented the lead-up to Celtic’s third in the 52nd minute. That was down to it coming moments after Craig Gordon had made an exceptional double-save which required the Scotland international to produce a spectacular airborne twist to deny Davis Keillor-Dunn from the edge of the area after the ball broke to the County player as a result of Gordon blocking with his legs when Craig Curran was one-on-one with him.
From that phase of play Rogic manufactured another shooting opportunity and keeper Aaron McCarey pushed the ball out to his left only for Forrest to steam in and bundle it over the line.
The fourth came when Forrest cut in from the right and guided a left-foot shot into the far corner with 16 minutes to play. There could have been many more, but the four-goal response to PSG was more than enough for Rodgers, who rightly took satisfaction from how his team adapted to personnel and system changes – one of which was Jonny Hayes being deployed as a left wing-back.
“It was perfect,” the Celtic manager said. “The players deserve a huge amount of credit. To come to a game after the midweek game, with a lot of energy put into that, and we knew we were going to play against a Ross County team that are very dogged and would make it difficult for us. We said to the players, ‘listen, we take our medicine during the week, we learn from and that is what this group are very good at doing. We remain very positive, press the reset button and go again.
“We play teams four to six teams a year and Celtic always has to be dominant. But it can never be stale. You can’t be predictable.
“And having the flexibility to play in the different systems that we do will hopefully make it challenging for our opponents each time we play.
“So today playing with the two strikers, with the width and the numbers inside – it worked well.”