Celtic 3 - 0 Ross County: Two-goal Odsonne Edouard provides a stunning cameo
The Scottish champions looked rough around the edges and rode their luck for the hour that the Frenchman was held in reserve on the bench because of a toe issue.
Then the 22-year-old was unleashed – replacing Griffiths – and within minutes had stamped his authority all over an encounter that Ross County made far more uncomfortable for their hosts than had been anticipated. To no avail, though, as Celtic extended their Premiership lead over Rangers to five points, ahead of the Ibrox club’s trip to Tynecastle today for one of the two games they have in hand over their rivals.
It was curious to see such a quiet afternoon for Griffiths on the back of his agenda-seizing week, whether through scoring two goals in two starts, or tape-gate, or appearing to inspire a war on football punditry.
Nothing seemed to fall for the 29-year-old as he sought to reassert himself. Edouard, in contrast, instantly appeared a magnet for making things happen, as he put the contest beyond doubt with a couple of crucial, class interventions.
His first touch of the afternoon proved a stooping, almost nonchalant header into the net from a Callum McGregor corner in the 65th minute that had arced over the head of Christopher Jullien almost as if making a beeline to the striker.
Four minutes later, Edouard started a move that led to James Forrest sliding the ball into him from the right. A typically elegant jink away from his marker made him all the space he needed to slot a precision drive into the far corner.
The goals brought the player’s club tally for the season to 20 and his dazzling cameo secured a convincing-looking win from an afternoon in which the Scottish champions had been anything but convincing in the opening stages.
County were left to curse not capitalising on what, Neil Lennon conceded, were an “ill at ease” centre-back pairing of Jozo Simunovic and Jullien, the Celtic manager switching from a midweek three to a flat defensive four as the result of Kristoffer Ajer missing out with a virus.
In the 25th minute, Jonny Hayes was also posted missing at left-back to allow Josh Mullin to get in behind him and deliver a cut-back that found Blair Spittal with oodles of time and space to finish. Instead, he contrived to tug his effort beyond the post from all of ten yards. It was a howling miss.
Celtic, who squandered a couple of early openings themselves, were able to breathe another huge sigh of relief shortly afterwards. Don Cowie – making his first senior start for nine months – paced down the right and, from a tight angle, produced a low drive that proved only inches wide of the far post.
Growing anxiety among the denizens in the home stands was allayed when Keith Watson appeared to catch Mikey Johnston as he turned in the box nine minutes before the interval in a challenge that had referee Kevin Clancy pointing to the spot without hesitation. McGregor stepped up to drive the spot-kick out of reach of Nathan Baxter’s right hand and, save for Fraser Forster superbly thwarting Spittal with his outstretched foot between Edouard’s goals, County never thereafter threatened an upset.
Having had ten goals thumped past them in their previous two meetings with Celtic, the Dingwall side – at Ibrox on Wednesday – could feel they had made progress only to be undone by misfortune… and an outrageously special talent.
“He’s not a bad substitute to have,” said joint manager Steven Ferguson of Edouard. “Celtic can do that – they can change personnel and change shape to allow them to go about things slightly differently. Sometimes they are able to replace really good players with even better players. He scored his two goals but we feel we could have defended them better.
“We wanted to make sure we were in the game but also offer a threat at the other end. The chances we created suggests we got that right.”