Old faces create new spark for Celtic

Celtic's Stuart Armstrong celebrates after scoring to make it 2-0. Picture: SNS
Celtic's Stuart Armstrong celebrates after scoring to make it 2-0. Picture: SNS
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The decision of Andrew Davies to sprint towards Scott Brown and skewer the Celtic captain in the groin by bringing his foot down on top of him in what appeared premeditated fashion pretty much overshadowed all else that happened at Parkhead on Saturday.

It left the captain of a Ross County side anchored to the bottom of the Premiership on the outside looking in as Celtic knocked off another win on their inexorable march towards a seventh straight title for the club. Their coronation is now potentially within touching distance.

Yet, notable was the players within Brendan Rodgers’ set-up that spent the entire afternoon on the outside looking in as his team exhibited an effervescence that they haven’t regularly conjured up.

There was much fanfare when Belgian wunderkind Charly Musonda was recruited on loan from Chelsea in January. Meanwhile, the £1m capture of experienced German centre-back Marvin Compper from RB Leipzig was supposed to be a game-changer for Celtic’s brittle defence.

On Saturday, Compper could not even make the bench as Rodgers’ men breezed to victory in, indeed, breezy fashion through second-half scoring contributions from Stuart Armstrong and Tom Rogic, pictured. In the first period, Scott Sinclair’s trickery earned Celtic a penalty converted by Moussa Dembele that sent them on their way before Davies’ 40th minute idiocy sent him on his way.

Across the winter, these three Celtic players made little impact. In the case of Armstrong and Rogic, injury dictated that. The Scotland midfielder earned his first club start of the year at the weekend following bright displays in the recent Scotland friendlies that allowed him step up his fitness following his January hernia operation. The Australian is now firmly back in the groove after he missed two months of the campaign.

Sinclair’s loss was more of a psychological one, with the winger bereft of confidence that seemed back in evidence against County, his driving runs in the face of robust treatment making for his best game of the year. With Leigh Griffiths producing a bright cameo in his first appearance after two months out with an ankle problem and Patrick Roberts given a short run-out as he regains his fitness after a hamstring tear, there was a sense of Rodgers getting back together the band that orchestrated an unprecedented unbeaten treble last season. The Irishman said afterwards his team looked more like they did in that historic season as Musonda and Compper watched on.

The array of attackers on show meant that Callum McGregor was forced into the left-back berth in the injury absence of Kieran Tierney after his midfield exploits in the Scotland victory over Hungary in midweek earned lavish praise. He had no grumbles when considering the Celtic squad members that weren’t even stripped.

“You’ve got really top players not playing, either on the bench or in the stand. So it keeps you fresh and keeps you hungry to be in the team,” he said. “So if you’ve got to go and play left-back then you do that. I’m just delighted to be in the team.

“The strength in depth of the squad is excellent. That was probably a great strength for us last season. We had everybody fit pretty much every week. There was competition for places, boys were coming into the team and doing really well. It was great to have Stu [Stuart Armstrong] back again. He looked powerful and he got his goal. It was good to get Griff [Leigh Griffiths] back, Paddy [Roberts] as well.”

Now all Celtic need is a few more wins and the title will be wrapped up. With the Scottish Cup semi-final against Rangers in a fortnight, they could be no more than five games away from becoming the first team in Scottish football history to claim back-to-back trebles. It would surprise now if they fall short.