Inverness CT 2-4 Celtic: Makeshift Celtic side brush ICT aside
THE focus has been on the Champions League and, with the job taken care of pretty easily at Inverness yesterday, Celtic were able to return their attention to the job of securing a place among the elite.
With niggles and knocks and with Wednesday night’s second leg of the tie against Helsingborg to occupy minds, Neil Lennon mixed things up. Without Kris Commons, Georgios Samaras, Thomas Rogne, Scott Brown, Anthony Stokes and Beram Kayal, the Celtic boss gambled on youth. It paid off handsomely. It may have been a slow-burning start to the season for the defending SPL champions, but it seems to have ignited. Two goals up in their European tie, it didn’t take them long to establish a similar lead in this one. With young Tony Watt up front with Gary Hooper and with Filip Twardzik slotting into the midfield, they got off to a supreme start.
By the 25th minute, the home manager Terry Butcher was like a man possessed as he waved his hands in a frenzied attempt to orchestrate the crowd and stimulate some kind of backing for his men. It was a forlorn hope. By that stage they were 2-0 down and the home fans were aware that it was simply a case of keeping things respectable as they already began the slow countdown to the final whistle and an end to the torture.
“It annoys me that people say that was a weakened Celtic side because they still had some quality players there and having got the start they did they are always going to play very well,” Butcher said afterwards. “We can play much better than that and it wasn’t pleasant to see. It was a long 90 minutes. We usually make it difficult for them but not this time.”
Away games in Europe and away games in the Highlands, those are the stuff Celtic nightmares have been made of in the relatively-recent past. But following on from their victory in Sweden, they travelled to Inverness and dismantled Caley too.
Much of that was down to the front men. Hooper was superb, dropping deep and picking up the ball before terrorising the Inverness defence, while 18-year-old Watt justified the club’s expectations. They paid around £80,000 to land him as a 16-year-old and on this evidence they will have no trouble recouping their investment and then some.
He was solid and brave with a beautiful finish and plays with more maturity than should be expected given his paucity of years and first-team outings. But two goals and an impressive all-round performance saw him capture the attention. It may not be enough to get him a starting berth at Celtic Park on Wednesday, but it shouldn’t be too long before he is able to grace such European occasions.
“I’m fed up with the sight of him already,” said Butcher, after he had watched the kid dismantle his side, scoring two of the four goals and getting in good positions all afternoon. “I hope he never plays against us again. He is an exceptional player and if you give him the amount of space we did, a team like Celtic are going to do their party tricks. They got their four goals and it could have been a few more, let’s be honest about it, 4-2 sounds closer than it should. We will just lick our wounds and move on.”
Before kick-off this was one where the defending SPL champions may have been susceptible to an upset given that they struggled in their last trip north, to face Ross County last Saturday.
But three minutes was all it took to get the first goal and they plundered the home goal almost at will thereafter as Butcher’s men were out-muscled, outmanoeuvred and out-classed. If his side had been the epitome of the man himself when they went down to ten men last weekend, making a spirited comeback to earn a draw, they produced a performance yesterday that could hardly have been further removed.
But a lot of that was down to Celtic, who looked more lively than has been the case so far on domestic duty this term. They piled on the pressure from the off and, having tested Ryan Esson with a Hooper shot, the keeper had to pull off a double stop. It gave Celtic the corner and Adam Matthews picked out Victor Wanyama who headed home to make it 1-0.
A foul on young Watt, who was already proving a handful, gave Charlie Mulgrew the chance to swing in the free kick, but as it dropped in the box it was ballooned over. Inverness were struggling to even get out their own half at that stage and it says a lot that an Aaron Doran hit and hope from long range which was steered away from target by Fraser Forster was their only real positive.
In contrast, there were no end of positives for Celtic. The most encouraging, though, was Watt, who got the goal his efforts deserved in the 24th minute. Having burst through one on one, he dispatched the perfect finish, which left Esson no chance.
A half-time dressing down might have been expected to galvanise Inverness slightly but it was Celtic who came out with the greater intent and they added a third just three minutes after the interval. Matthews fed Mulgrew and he struck home a left-foot shot.
Hooper, from a tight angle, almost scored when Esson came to gather on the byline but couldn’t. The shot, though, skimmed just across the face of goal, the necessary touch for a tap in not materialising.
But Watt made no mistake in the 63rd minute adding his second of the afternoon.
Inverness managed something to soothe the home crowd as Ross Draper got one back in the 81st minute and when substitute Conor Pepper played a ball over the top of the goalie, the same player stabbed home to give the scoreline a less one-sided look.
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Wednesday 19 June 2013
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