Leigh Griffiths continues to prove his worth to Celtic on the domestic front with two goals yesterday that contributed to another win for his side, who re-establish their six-point lead at the top of the Premiership.
nny Deila’s side dealt very effectively with the threat from their hosts. The visitors had secured a three-goal lead just ten minutes into the second half after two goals in 90 seconds by Griffiths supplemented Tom Rogic’s first-half opener. County provided the hint of a comeback with a goal by Tony Dingwall just before the hour mark.
But Nir Bitton’s header with 15 minutes left secured the victory and saw Celtic close out the game in comfort. Deila declined to take the opportunity during the period to hand Carlton Cole his debut from the bench. When the hat-trick chasing Griffiths was withdrawn, it was for Nadir Ciftci.
While Celtic utilised all three substitutes and had to finish with ten men when the excellent James Forrest limped off, Cole was not required – Delia later explained simply getting a taste of the matchday experience will benefit him for now.
With an international break now upon us, the former England international will have to wait for his first appearance. Like Ciftci, he will realise that with Griffiths in such goalscoring form, chances might prove limited.
It’s just a pity the lofty Cole doesn’t play at centre-half. Celtic’s much revolving back four – it certainly isn’t possible to describe this unconvincing department as evolving – changed again after last midweek’s defeat by Molde to accommodate the return of Efe Ambrose and Emilio Izaguirre, with Kieran Tierney perhaps surprisingly dropped to the bench after outstanding recent performances.
But while Dingwall was given space to shoot home on 59 minutes, Celtic’s much-scrutinised and criticised defence held firm for the most part.
An as poorly observed minute’s silence as this correspondent has heard preceded the game which was a great shame for Ross County, whose public announcer specifically included more than 400 killed when HMS Natal capsized in the Cromarty Firth 100 years ago next month, after ammunition exploded on board, in the
Deila later described the actions of more-than-just-a few individuals who could not stay silent for 60 seconds, whatever their political beliefs, as “disappointing”. The club will no doubt issue an apology but it comes down to personal responsibility and was utterly depressing.
The disruption simply added to the gloom of a dreich November afternoon in the Highlands, where the at-times torrential rain swept across the park. Cole was included among the substitutes for the first time and was serenaded to the tune of Spandau Ballet’s Gold by the Celtic fans as he warmed up.
These supporters were not adapting the words to any classic 1980s hit in praise of Izaguirre, who sent a cross towards them rather than the goalmouth early on. For someone trying to impress following the recent performances of stand-in Tierney, it was a far from ideal start for him.
Celtic continued to press but, for all their possession, they created precious few clear-cut chances before they edged ahead after 37 minutes. Ross County had been defending with admirable fortitude prior to this goal by Rogic, which was sourced from a half-chance – at best – in any case.
There was far less drama at the opposite end to where the away fans were housed. But skipper Martin Woods should have done better than mishit a shot after Ian McShane’s corner found him unmarked at the back post. It was as good a chance as Ross County created in the opening half.
Celtic’s possession finally counted for something when Rogic took it upon himself to drive at the County defence after Mikael Lustig’s pass. He unleashed a left-footed effort that flew past Gary Woods into the corner of the net.
Ross County had been expected to give Celtic an awkward test on their return to domestic football following last week’s wretched defeat by Molde.
Even after Rogic’s strike, Celtic knew they could ill-afford to rest easy. The home side had the benefit of the wind in the second half and looked to rectify matters almost immediately after the re-start when a ball was threaded through to McShane, who prodded wide before colliding with goalkeeper Craig Gordon.
But it was Celtic who were next to threaten and the home side had their ’keeper to thank for keeping them in the game. Izaguirre’s cross from the left hung up in the wind. Griffiths, once he had got the ball under control, dug out a shot that Woods was able to beat away. But the striker only had to wait a few more minutes for his goal – or should that be goals.
One quickly followed the other as Celtic made sure of the points, or so most thought. Griffiths’ first, after 54 minutes, saw him pounce on Boyd’s slip to score his 17th goal of the season with a well-placed left-foot shot from 12 yards.
His 18th followed little more than a minute later and was a better-worked goal from Celtic’s point of view. Forrest showed Boyd a clean pair of heels on the right, pushing the ball one side of the defender and running around the other, before continuing on into the box. His cut-back found Griffiths, who swept the ball into the net.
But County quickly showed they were not completely out of it by scoring a third goal in a frantic six-minute spell, Dingwall finishing well from 12 yards after Boyce’s pass.
Gordon was then called on to make a brilliant fingertip save from Jackson Irvine’s header but Bitton’s glancing header from a Stuart Armstrong corner restored Celtic’s three-goal lead and sealed the outcome.
Ross County: G Woods, Fraser, Robertson, Boyd, Foster, M Woods, Gardyne, Irvine (Murdoch 78), McShane (Curran 59), Dingwall, Boyce (Schalk 67). Subs not used: Holden, Franks, De Vita, Severn.
Celtic: Gordon, Lustig, Boyata, Ambrose, Izaguirre, Johansen (Mackay-Steven 71), Bitton, Forrest, Rogic (McGregor 80), Armstrong, Griffiths (Ciftci 80). Subs not used: Allan, Cole, Bailly, Tierney.