All eyes were on Leigh Griffiths. Neil Lennon had given the player something to think about prior to the match when he insisted the striker who had scored in the Scottish Cup final win over Hearts was still not fit enough.
Griffiths probably suspected he would only have restricted time in which to impress. Lennon made it clear on the eve of this fixture that he still didn’t think the striker could last 90 minutes. Not wishing to prove himself wrong, Lennon withdrew Griffiths for Albian Ajeti after 80 minutes. But Griffiths had already scored his 120th goal in Celtic colours. Reports of his demise have been exaggerated
Griffiths ultimately proved he was worth his place. He endured a rum first hour and passed up two chances he would normally have been expected to convert before getting on the scoresheet in rather unlikely fashion via a header.
It was well timed. Not only did the goal seal Celtic’s victory after David Turnbull’s first-half opener, it also once again underlined that whatever the doubts about application, Griffiths remains a natural goalscorer. The less impressive Odsonne Edouard was the first striker replaced, by Mikey Johnston, after 70 minutes.
Living up to his nickname, Griffiths provided a sparky interview after the shootout win over Hearts at Hampden, suggesting that the only way he could get fit was being given the opportunity to play “on the green stuff, the pitch”. Well, he got that chance here – his first league start when he scored a hat-trick in the 5-0 win over St Mirren, which remains the last time he played 90 minutes.
Not that this particular pitch was very green. Already heavy looking, it cut up badly in the area where Ross County had warmed up in a box grid in the right-hand corner nearest the main stand. Perhaps this was a ruse employed by that old warhorse John Hughes, back for his latest assignment as manager after three years out of the game.
He has not been so distanced from events to have failed to register that Jeremie Frimpong would likely be a source of danger, and so it turned out – despite the rutted pitch in the corner where he was planning to do most of his work in the first half, when Celtic were attacking the Lisbon Lions stand.
The 20-year-old Frimpong proved as sure-footed as ever, turning his even younger opposite man, the 18-year-old Josh Reid, inside out before crossing for Turnbull to sweep home after 24 minutes.
Playing up front alongside Edouard, just as many Celtic fans have been calling for in recent weeks, Griffiths, meanwhile, was eager enough, but the pair just did not click on this occasion. Edouard seemed interested only in shooting when he got the ball within range of the County goal.
Griffiths should have put Celtic two in front when he was released by Callum McGregor’s pass but delayed his shot and allowed Alex Iacovittie to block. Shortly before he took advantage of being completely unmarked by planting a header from Ryan Christie’s cross into the far corner after 61 minutes, he uncharacteristically messed up another opportunity after Iain Vigurs’ misplaced backpass.