Why Celtic's lap of honour was more adulatory than normal after victory over Ross County

It almost seems obligatory for Celtic to cough up a penalty through a controversial handball decision in games these days.

It is certainly obligatory for Ange Postecoglou’s men to find the loss of any goal, in any circumstances, no impediment to dishing out a defeat to domestic opposition. And the Scottish champions' 14th cinch Premiership victory in 15 outings, a 2-1 success over Ross County after they found themselves 1-0 down in the 49th minutes, surely was definitive in the quest to retain the title.

Stretching their lead to nine points over a Rangers that had stumbled again earlier in the afternoon, they have established a gap that has never been overturned in the three-points-for-a-win era at almost the halfway point. The acclaim showered on Celtic's players and manager as they took their standard end-of-game lap of honour was more adulatory than normal. That could be put down to the game concluding the first part of a season that now goes into abeyance for five weeks because of the World Cup. The sense, though, was that the reception was attributable to the fact the crowd recognise their is no budging Posteocoglou’s men from the top flight summit.

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And though Celtic players and their manager – and the rest of us, for that matter – may despair at rules causing an extravaganza of handball penalty calls, the spot-kick converted by David Cancola ultimately seemed to do them a favour. The anger over the award by referee David Munro, and VAR’s subsequent confirmation, seemed merely to energise the home players and their legions. The reaction within the stadium appeared entirely understandable following referee the ball appearing to strike Matt O’Riley’s arm when it was positioned as it should have been for pacing forward to challenge Callum Johnson, only for the defender to flick the ball unexpectedly in the Celtic midfielder’s direction.

The Celtic players take the acclaim of their fans after the 2-1 win over Ross County.
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Injustice is a powerful motivation and so it proved just when Celtic had appeared to be unusually lacking in that department. Rangers’ latest travails, which ensure this championship only going one way, made the events in Glasgow’s east end seem of little real importance to the overall picture.

However, Celtic were jolted by going one down. They set about their visitors in ruthless fashion, having sloppily passed up several opportunities across a one-side first period. The return of their edge was shredding for Malky Mackay’s side. The incredible numbers Celtic proved willing to commit forward to flip the encounter, and their sleek passing and prodding in and around a penalty box they helped packed out, was too much for the Highlanders. The exceptional Reo Hatate had a huge part in that. In the 62nd minute, the Japanese schemer produced and wriggly-eel run took him past a host of opponents and into the left channel of the area. It opened him up all the space he required to be able to set himself and square to David Turnbull. Despite bodies all around him, with utter nonchalance, the attacker finished off a lethal move by poking the ball in from point-blank range.

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Six minutes later, Hatate was again unable to be pinned down by the visiting defence as he not once, but twice, exchanged passes with Saed Haksabanovic to work the ball to the left hand edge of the area. It gave the winger the sighting of goal that had his eyes lighting up, the forward wrapping his foot around the ball and guiding it low into the corner.

Celtic's Sead Haksabanovic celebrates scoring the winning goal.