As Ange Postecoglou was able to derive everything out of the 4-1 victory in Dingwall he desired courtesy of giving more than a few of his central performers the night off ahead of facing up to Rangers and Real Madrid across the next six days.
In all, nine of those that started Celtic’s record 9-0 annihilation of Dundee United at the weekend weren’t stripped at the first whistle. Kyogo Furuhashi, Jota, Josip Juranovic, Joe Hart, Greg Taylor, Matt O’Riley and Cameron Carter-Vickers didn’t get their boots dirty at any stage, with the final four not even in the matchday squad. More notable was that latest signing Sead Haksabanovic was allowed to do so with a 15 minutes run-out in which he instantly looked electric.
In the initial stages of a tie in which Celtic appeare d the home team thanks to their supporters filling two stands as the other two stands featured modest home gatherings, Postecoglou’s alterations made little difference to the intensity and aggression shown by his team. With Aaron Mooy, Alexandro Bernabei and Benjamin Seigrist earning their first starts, they swarmed over their hosts and claimed a 2-0 lead inside 25 minutes – with strikes from ever-in-place Callum McGregor and Giorgos Giakoumakis then appearing to put the tie in place.
But, the Highland club, themselves featuring five changes from their previous outing, didn’t prove as instantly collapsible as United had three days earlier. And when, 67 minutes in, Alex Iacovitti headed in a Jordan White knock-down for his third goal against Celtic in two years, there seemed life in the contest. It took five minutes for that to be snuffed out, keeper Jake Eastwood slapping out a McGregor drive that wasn’t exactly travelling to allow Daizen Maeda to steam in and fire high into the net. Further punishment for the home team was dished out in the form of James Forrest’s 98th goal of his 12-year senior Celtic career, the substitute slamming in from eight yards following a cut-back from Anthony Ralston.
It was the sort of compelling move that Celtic fashioned regularly in the opening exchanges, with David Turnbull’s craft to the fore as he sent in a series of corners that County struggled to handle. After Stephen Welsh hit the crossbar from one and a deflection from another led to the goalframe rattling again, a third after 21 minutes resulted in McGregor neatly side-footing in for his first goal of the campaign. Giakoumakis, putting himself about as if his life depended on it, seemed certain to have his moment. It arrived four minutes after the opener when a delightful backheel allowed the Greek to shimmy his way into space, wrap his foot around the ball and curl it into the corner.
By the final whistle, the travelling fans were bellowing “bring on the Rangers”. Saturday’s colossal meeting of the pair in Glasgow’s east end on Saturday will roll around soon enough, and Celtic - in whatever guise - certainly look ready for that altogether more exacting challenge. Six straight victories in this fledgling season that have brought 25 goals will engender that feeling.