Celtic regained their place at the top of the Ladbrokes Premiership with a sizzling 6-0 rout of Ross County at Parkhead
As a result of their loss at Livingston and draw away to Hibs in their two games prior to the international break, they faced a new scenario. Never before during their run of eight straight titles had they entered a league weekend knowing that an adverse series of results would leave them five points adrift of league leaders Rangers.
Yet, inspiration rather than inhibition seemed to flow from their need to reclaim top spot in the table - at least until the Ibrox men play Hearts this lunchtime - leading Neil Lennon’s side to produce an electric, eviscerating performance that wasn’t fully reflected in them only slam six goals past visitors Ross County.
It left their manager not just purring but making some serious proclamations about a slaughter in which two-goal contributors Mohamed Elyounoussi and Odsonne Edouard, and 18-uear-old right back Jeremie Frimpong - in his first league start - were scintillating.
The spread of the goals might suggest that the earlier period in the second half, when Celtic netted four times across a nine-minute spell, were pivotal. Yet, the reality of this outrageously one-side, non-contest against a Dingwall club on a four-game unbeaten run is that the Scottish champions could genuinely have scored four goals every nine minute such was their relentless procession towards the visitors’ goal.
It left Lennon, who watched his side score six times, have Ross Laidlaw pull off half a dozen saves, and two other opportunities be denied by goalline clearances, issuing a great claim over what he had just watched. It was nice to be back on top, he said, and that his side could “enjoy” their night. And, moreover, look forward to more to enjoy despite Steven Gerrard’s men appearing set to provide them the stiffest of title challenges this season.
“It’s going to to and fro for a while but if we play like that for the majority of games it’ll take a lot to stop us. We won’t get carried away and we’ve got a good game up next [at home to Lazio in Thursday’s Europa League encounter],” he said, also providing an eyebrow-raising assessment of the victory.
“I thought it was probably the most complete display in my second spell and maybe amongst the best in my time here over the two spells. I thought we were brilliant first half and very unfortunate not to have more goals. Ross Laidlaw had a great game. I know him from Hibs. We played some spectacular football – it was exhilarating, there was athleticism, an appetite and an intensity to win.
“We threw down the challenge [when it was 1-0] at half-time – we can be a nice team and play good football and give the other team oxygen to stay in the game, or be ruthless They answered in spades. We have a good team and there’s more to come from them. That was a marvellous team performance all-round. I don’t know how they picked man of match because there were so many outstanding performances.”
On-loan Southampton winger Elyounoussi began the rout after only four minutes following a brilliant one-touch interchange that began when Frimpong passed to Edouard.
He deftly flicked into the path of McGregor, who played in the Norwegian international. He cut inside, knocked the ball past Marcus Fraser as if he was tissue paper and, with the break of the ball off the defender, curled the ball into the far corner of the net.
Celtic were therafter rampant - a glorious sweeping move the full length of the pitch that ended with McGregor smacking the post when the goal was at his mercy the particular highlight - but astonishingly had not put County away by the break.
They put that to right in short order following the interval. A Keith Watson slip when attempting to head away a cross, let Edouard, fresh from five goals in two games for the French under-21s, breeze in and steer the ball beyond Laidlaw.
In an instant, Edouard played in McGregor to make it 3-0.
Four minutes later, the fourth arrived when Frimpong flipped over a cross that elicited a diving header from Edouard goalbound by the time Liam Fontaine tried to hook it out and only succeeded in helping it on its way. The devastating spell continued when Frimpong provided the cut-back for James Forrest to smack in five minutes later.
In truth, County then got off lightly as Celtic added only one further goal.
That arrived in the 72nd minute, when a Vakoun Bayo cross from the right was hammered toward goal by Boli Bolingoli, and diverted out of Laidlaw’s reach by Elyounoussi.