Celtic maintained their current aura as Scottish football’s invincibles as they romped 11 points clear at the top of the Premiership with a Leigh Griffiths-inspired victory at Partick Thistle.
Making his first start for over a month as top scorer Moussa Dembele was given time off among the substitutes, Griffiths provided two assists for Stuart Armstrong and also bagged his own tenth goal of the season to remind Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers of his continuing worth.
The Scottish champions, who added a late fourth goal through substitute Callum McGregor after Liam Lindsay had pulled one back for Alan Archibald’s side, remain unbeaten against domestic opposition this season and comfortably on course for a sixth consecutive league title.
It was also their 23rd successive victory over the Jags, a run now stretching back 21 years. Thistle’s wretched record against Celtic offered little cause for optimism among the home support who, as is the way of it for visits from their bigger city neighbours, were relocated from their normal seats in the Jackie Husband Stand.
That inconvenience would be regarded as worthwhile for Jags followers if their favourites could one day upset the odds in this fixture. This wasn’t going to be the night that happened, but before the familiar script unfolded, there was some early encouragement for them in a scrappy opening period.
As Celtic took time to settle into any kind of rhythm, they were troubled by the power and willingness of David Amoo down the right for Thistle. The attacking midfielder posed the first threat of the evening when he latched onto Chris Erskine’s pass to burst into the box where his dangerous cross was blocked by Emilio Izaguirre at the expense of a corner.
At the other end, Griffiths’ desire to make the most of what has become the rare experience of leading the line for Celtic this season was plain to see.
If anything, last season’s leading goalscorer was initially just a little too eager to impress. His first sight of goal came from a free-kick conceded by Sean Welsh for a clumsy foul on Patrick Roberts. From around 25 yards out, Griffiths sent his effort well wide.
When Celtic produced the game’s first passage of high-quality passing and movement, with Tom Rogic and Roberts carving open the Thistle defence, the ball was cut back for Griffiths whose shot was comfortably saved by Tomas Cerny.
The Thistle goalkeeper then had to be alert on two occasions to deprive Griffiths of possession just outside the penalty area as he raced on to through balls. The second intervention was especially well-timed by Cerny, which it had to be as any foul on the striker would surely have earned a straight red card.
Those close calls for the hosts came either side of a decent effort of their own from Erskine, who flashed a left-foot shot narrowly wide of Craig Gordon’s left-hand post from a difficult angle around 12 yards out.
But, by that stage, there was a clear sense that Celtic were beginning to establish a dominance of territory and possession which they duly converted into the breakthrough goal from Armstrong six minutes before half-time.
Griffiths could take satisfaction from his part in it as he showed good movement and awareness to fasten on to Scott Brown’s pass and find a menacing position on the left of the Thistle penalty area. He drilled the ball low across the face of the six-yard box where Armstrong reacted quicker than a posse of Jags defenders to beat Cerny from close range.
Any prospect of Thistle recovering the situation evaporated as Celtic added two more goals in rapid-fire succession at the start of the second half.
They doubled their lead when Thistle switched off at a free-kick, taken quickly by Griffiths and played into the path of the unmarked Armstrong. From around 20 yards, he had all the time he needed to guide a precise left-foot shot beyond Cerny’s unconvincing dive to his right.
Just 16 seconds after play was restarted, Celtic made it 3-0 as they won possession again and Rogic found Griffiths inside the penalty area. He turned sharply away from the hesitant Adam Barton and lofted a neat left-foot finish beyond Cerny.
That emphatically and effectively settled matters, although some slipshod defending from Celtic allowed Thistle to pull a goal back in the 61st minute when Lindsay rose unchallenged to power home a header from Welsh’s free-kick.
Thistle thought they had scored again when Welsh headed home a Callum Booth free-kick but were undone by an offside decision.
Celtic continued to exert their authority in attack, Cerny making a brilliant save to deny Griffiths another goal before McGregor wrapped up the scoring nine minutes from time when he thumped home a cross from Izaguirre.