NEIL Lennon described it as a “glimpse of what is coming through” after his barely recognisable Celtic team posted a thoroughly professional performance to secure three points in the Highlands.
He commended the likes of Marcus Fraser and Dylan McGeouch for not only contributing to the victory but also having the steel to overcome the loss of an early goal.
More experienced Celtic teams, and ones with more to play for, have come unstuck in Inverness in the past.
Lennon handed a day-off to many regular first-teamers who were spared the journey north ahead of tomorrow’s Champions League last 16 clash with Juventus. It was difficult to avoid setting Saturday’s encounter within the context of such a significant game, although the home fans could not be expected to share that view. They were desperate for their team to make things as difficult as possible for Celtic, the way they have done so often in the past.
On this occasion, however, Celtic thrived even when permitted the luxury of making wholesale changes. In place of undoubted talents such as Gary Hooper and Victor Wanyama were players who, like debutants Tomas Rogic and Rami Gershon, were keen to make a good first impression, or else, like Beram Kayal and Miku, were desperate to cement their places on the substitutes’ bench, at least, for tomorrow night. They were hardly likely to want to go through the motions.
Indeed, it was Fraser Forster, one of only two Celtic regulars who started the game, who let his usual high standards slip slightly, when he failed to cope with a cross from Aaron Doran. Nick Ross dealt with the rebound off the keeper’s knee, steering the ball back into the net. “He was naturally a wee bit rusty,” said Lennon of Forster, who had not played since 2 January.
Rogic, meanwhile, played a significant part in the equaliser, dragging the ball into the box, before playing an intelligent ball to the back of the six-yard box. It begged for Kris Commons, the other bona-fide regular in the starting XI, to rifle a first-time effort into the net, and he did, without fuss and without any noticeable celebration. Another goal just after half-time, when Gershon headed McGeouch’s cross into the net, might have deflated lesser teams, but Inverness enjoyed their best moments of the game thereafter.
It didn’t escape Terry Butcher’s notice that, at 2-1, his side had opportunities to equalise. Then how might the match have finished? In the end, from one of these spurned chances, Celtic sped up the park, and after Anthony Stokes had fed in a clever pass to the back post, Miku sealed the points with only the second goal of his Celtic career.
“It’s a sore one after the start we made,” admitted midfielder Ross Draper. “We put Celtic under a lot of pressure early and as soon as we got the goal we felt that we could kick on and try to kill the game as soon as possible.
“But they are a good team and they only need one chance to score. We were talking about it in the dressing-room that we weren’t as clinical as we have been for the whole season. So we have a bit to work on. But if you had told us at the start of the season that we would go as far as we did in the cups and be so high in the league, we would have snatched it.”
Draper addressed the question of whether Inverness were now in the grip of decline, after four matches without a win. Just like Celtic, they have their own reason to be focused on a midweek appointment, with Kilmarnock due at the Tulloch Caledonian stadium on Wednesday. A victory then would at least return the gap between Inverness and Celtic to 15 points, which was what it had been before midday on Saturday.
“I think if we’d got another goal and drawn 2-2, we wouldn’t be having a conversation about burst bubbles but it’s no disgrace to get beaten by a team doing well in the Champions League,” added Draper.
“It was possibly an opportunity with them making so many changes but any team Celtic put out is going to compete and try to do well to show the manager what they can do.”