Celtic 2 - 0 Ross County: Rodgers’ side win 14th straight

Celtic's Erik Sviatchenko celebrates his opening goal. Picture: SNS
Celtic's Erik Sviatchenko celebrates his opening goal. Picture: SNS
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A calculator is becoming the must-have item for attending Celtic games. The figures are simply becoming dizzying, with the club seeing out their final home game of 2016 with a comfortable win over Ross County that means they are unbeaten in the 22 domestic encounters played at Celtic Park over the entire year.

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That hardly begins to tell the story of Brendan Rodgers’ half season in charge of the club, though. The raking, long-range drives from Erik Sviatchenko and Stuart Armstrong that banked the latest three-points haul, ensured a 14th straight league win, and 23rd domestic game without defeat since day one of the campaign – 22 of these matches having been won. That has allowed Rodgers’ team to accumulate 55 points from the 57 they have contested.

It is a quite astonishing level of consistency last witnessed when Martin O’Neill’s Celtic side of 2003-04 achieved a top-flight record of 25 straight league wins. In doing so, that team bagged 105 goals over the course of the league season. That is surely within reach of Rodgers’ team with the strikes against County meaning they have now scored 52 goals by the mid-point of this season.

Celtic weren’t at their best last night, and haven’t hit real heights across the eight games they have played in December. Yet, they have always had the quality to make the difference and though Rodgers might feel his team will lose this season in the domestic domain, that is no certainty.

Rangers at Ibrox on Saturday might be expected to provide the Scottish champions with their sternest test. Yet, the fact there is now a 16-point gap between the pair – with Celtic having played a game fewer – gives little reason to suppose that the winning run of Rodgers’ team will be halted on Hogmanay.

The range and variety of goal sources and the team’s relentless pressing and prompting to find openings have made Rodgers’ team an irresistible force.

It took until the 38th minute last night for Celtic to get going and they required a 32-yard steered effort from Sviatchenko. The Dane is only a few weeks short of one year at Celtic Park and until his precision low effort – which found County keeper Scott Fox slow in getting down – he had only once before found the net.

The contrast with the man who sealed the latest win for Rodgers’ men could hardly have been more acute. Armstrong, with six goals in the past six weeks to take him to eight for the season, has become the go-to player for goal plundering at Celtic – outstripping both strikers Leigh Griffiths and Moussa Dembele in the final two months of 2016.

He demonstrated his assurance and accuracy when he twisted into space 22 yards out, elected not to shoot, then shifted the ball back to his left side. Just as it seemed he would be closed down, he let rip with a grass-cutting effort that whizzed across the face of the goal and into the far corner of the County net.

It was all academic after that, with a low-key second half failing to produce any more goals, despite Celtic controlling the period and having several opportunities, a Griffiths header the best of them.

Yet, if there was any Premiership side entitled to feel they might be able to avoid succumbing at Celtic Park it was last night’s visitors. For no other reason than Jim McIntyre’s men were the last team to actually do that.

Amid all the shiny stats the Scottish champions have been stacking up in mountainous fashion during their romp through their own backyard, it has been overlooked that they were looking to extend a 12-game domestic home winning run. Ten of these have been achieved under Rodgers, with the other two at the end of last season under his predecessor, Ronny Deila. These came after a 1-1 draw with County in late April that stands as the last time a Scottish team were not vanquished by Celtic in their east end of Glasgow environs.

No-one gave the Highland club much chance of repeating their effort of eight months ago. Rightly, as it turned out, but for spells early on they proved a more stoic and, for the Celtic defence, sticky opponent than might have been imagined.

Ferocious in their work-rate and counter-attacking with alacrity, as many visiting teams have in recent times, they had their ‘what if’ moments in the early exchanges.

A few dozy moments from Jozo Simunovic had to be offset by the alertness of his defensive partner Sviatchenko. When that security was breached, County striker Liam Boyce slashed wide after being sent through early on, while composure and conviction utterly deserted Alex Schalk. It seems that Scottish teams go weak at the knees when faced with the unstoppable opponent that Celtic are proving to be.

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