ANYONE drawing a direct form line by comparing the performances of Inverness Caledonian Thistle and Aberdeen at Celtic Park over the past three weeks would reach the clear view that the Pittodrie side fully merit their status as odds-on favourites to lift the League Cup when the teams face each other at the stadium on 16 March.
Celtic 5 - 0 Inverness CT
SCORERS: Griffiths 11, 57, 85, Mulgrew 22, Commons 78
Referee: B Colvin
As impressive and vibrant as Aberdeen were in beating Celtic 2-1 on their own patch in the Scottish Cup last month, so Inverness were inept and timid as they were crushed 5-0 by the champions on Premiership business on Saturday.
But as dismayed as the Inverness players were by their display against a Leigh Griffiths-inspired Celtic, they are content it will bear no relevance to their bid to win the first piece of major silverware in the Highland club’s brief but remarkable 20-year history.
“We are confident it will be a different outcome when we come back to Celtic Park for the final,” said midfielder Ross Draper. “Some of the lads were saying this was sort of a dress rehearsal for it, in that it allowed us to get to know the pitch.
“It will be a similar atmosphere in a couple of weeks. It’s always great to play at stadiums like this. It’s going to be a great day for everyone.
“It will be against a completely different team – Aberdeen have their own different qualities. This was against Celtic and they are just bonus games for us. It will be a much more even game against Aberdeen, I would have thought.
“We will just forget about this one. It’s done, it’s gone. Celtic were good and we were off the pace. It’s just one of those games we want to forget all about.
“We will move on to the Scottish Cup quarter-final against Dundee United next Sunday now. We’ll get back to working hard and playing well again, because we were well below par against Celtic.
“The League Cup final isn’t in the back of our minds – not at all. It’s not been spoken about in the changing room, that’s the whole truth, so there’s no problems with that.
“We know finishing in the top six of the league will be as big an achievement for the club as reaching a cup final, so we are concentrating on that.
“We are disappointed with the result against Celtic. We’ve got a distraction next weekend with the Scottish Cup, then we’ve got a big league game the following Wednesday at home to Hibs where we could kind of cement a top-six finish. Getting back-to-back top-six finishes for a club like ours would be some achievement.”
Inverness were simply overwhelmed by an eager and energetic Celtic on Saturday, although John Hughes’ team also contributed to their own downfall with some dismally lax defending.
It was evident at Celtic’s 11th minute opening goal, Emilio Izaguirre allowed time to cross from the left and no-one in the visiting side reacting as Griffiths nipped in to stab home his first goal of the afternoon from inside the six-yard box.
Celtic doubled their lead in the 22nd minute, Griffiths’ corner from the right dropping short of the near post where Charlie Mulgrew was unchallenged as he flicked a left-foot shot into the net.
Richie Foran should have pulled a goal back for Inverness six minutes later when he wastefully scooped a shot over from Graeme Shinnie’s cross, but that was a rare moment of attacking threat from Hughes’ men.
The second half was a procession towards Dean Brill’s goal and the Inverness ’keeper was beaten again in the 57th minute when Griffiths smashed a brilliant left-foot shot in off his post after nicking the ball off Josh Meekings’ toes. Brill was embarrassed in the 78th minute when he allowed substitute Kris Commons’ 22-yard shot to squirm out his grasp and over the line for Celtic’s fourth.
Griffiths, who might easily have scored five or six, completed the rout and his hat-trick five minutes from time when he drove a precise left-foot shot low across Brill into the corner of the net.
For Wolverhampton native Draper, the performance of Griffiths was especially painful to deal with. “I’m a Wolves fan and I know what Leigh Griffiths is all about,” said Draper. “All my mates back home raved about him. They wanted him to stay down there. To be fair, I wish he had stayed there!
“He’s just got it. He scored goals against us last year for Hibs. He was terrific for them in the league last season. Celtic are no mugs, they know who they are signing. Leigh is proven at this level. He will go on to score many more for Celtic.”