IN TERMS of festive fare, this was a three-day old Brussels sprout, or the Caramac still lurking deep within the reluctantly-opened selection box.
Ross County, with good reason, would of course disagree. They may have dropped to the foot of the Premiership table yesterday, but they never allowed their concentration levels to drop against a blunt Celtic. Committed to defending on the edge of their box, Jim McIntyre’s side did so as a fully fighting unit, their admirable efforts claiming them only a second point of the 15 most recently contested.
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The exertions of their opponents, in contrast, could only be considered deeply flawed. Ronny Deila’s side may have fashioned plenty of activity in and around their visitors’ penalty area, but an absence of precision and forcefulness prevented such flurries adding up to anything. These frontline failures are exemplified by the suddenly profound scoring struggles of the previously prolific John Guidetti. Following 11 goals in ten appearances, the 22-year-old Swede has now gone five league games without a goal, the drought leading to his early disappearance from each of these encounters.
Indeed, the fact that neither he nor his strike partner Leigh Griffiths could make any headway in front of the far from overworked Antonio Reguero in the County goal made for the first scoreless draw witnessed in a league game at Celtic Park since Hibernian held a fragile home side on 29 October, 2011. Celtic were supposed to move into overdrive once they had clear midweeks and could spend more time on the training pitch. It is hardly a ringing endorsement of Deila’s coaching drills that they have picked up only one point from a possible six in the first fortnight of the season when his players have been in action only on weekends.
What this dip means is that, should Aberdeen win in Inverness tomorrow, and at home to St Johnstone on New Year’s Day, Celtic will be seeking to regain top spot when they first-foot Partick Thistle in the early evening kick-off on 1 January.
Never was Guidetti’s struggle more evident than in the 40th minute when a curling Callum McGregor effort that shivered the bar rebounded straight to the on-loan Manchester City player… only for him to head wide with the goal at his mercy. Deila did not attempt to deny that the player is toiling.
“He is struggling at the moment, you can see that,” the Celtic manager admitted. “He hasn’t become a bad player in a month, it is just small details that we are going to have to turn around. He will come back. My challenge, and his challenge as well, is to get back as quickly as possible. His ambitions are very high and he is even more disappointed than everyone else.”
Deila acknowledged that, despite their complete command, key ingredients were missing.
“It was a very frustrating game,” he said. “We had the ball for 90 minutes but we didn’t manage to break them down and get the tempo up, especially in the last third. We had so much possession we had to create more and that is what is disappointing today.”
McIntyre, in Hannibal from the A Team fashion, could delight in a plan coming together. The County manager admitted the containment mindset owed much to the 5-0 “hammering” in Dingwall the last time the teams met. “We had to be hard to beat and break down and they carried that our very well.”
McIntyre’s side might have had even greater joy had a long-range drive from Filip Kiss that had Craig Gordon beaten not struck the base of the post in the 85th minute. Meanwhile, the Highland club’s manager dismissed suggestions that the wins for St Mirren – which allowed them to overtake County – and Motherwell could only have been blots on his team’s day.
“The only result we could affect today was our own and we take positives of taking a point at Parkhead. I don’t think many teams will come here and do that. St Mirren’s results are irrelevant to us, we can only concentrate on ourselves. Is it disappointing? Of course it is, but I’m really pleased with what we’ve done today. We’ve done a lot of things well in recent weeks, we’ve been creating chances but not picking up points. The thing that’s been letting us down is not winning games, but we haven’t been taking a hammering off teams.”
Right now, Celtic don’t look capable of hammering anyone.
Celtic: Gordon, Matthews, Ambrose, Van Dijk, Izaguirre, Brown, Bitton, Johansen, Griffiths, Guidetti (Scepovic 69), Stokes (McGregor 9; Commons 69). Subs not used: Zaluska, O’Connell, Henderson, Tierney.
Ross County: Reguero, Saunders, Quinn, Boyd, Reckord, Kiss, Brittain, Dunfield (Ross 90), Woods, Gardyne (Toshney 38), Arquin (Jervis 90+2). Subs not used: Cardle, Maatsen, Brown
Referee: Crawford Allan. Attendance: 45,798
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