THE synthetic sense of crisis for Ronny Deila that was whipped up by Celtic’s home loss to Hamilton was well and truly slapped down by the doing his team handed out in Dingwall yesterday.
Scorers: Celtic - Guidetti (11), McGregor (14), Stokes (29, 56), Denayer (35)
For now. Even if the Norwegian has attempted to downplay the dismal nature of the Accies defeat that he and his team have been stewing over for the fortnight’s international break, what was served up against a feckless Ross County was unrecognisable.
Personnel, in part, dictated a performance that will send Celtic into Thursday’s Europa League encounter against Astra revitalised. Deila’s team were brighter, sharper, better than in recent weeks through being bolstered by the return of Charlie Mulgrew, Mikael Lustig and Callum McGregor. Not just because of what these players added, but through what they brought out in others. Mulgrew anchoring the midfield alongside Scott Brown, allowed Stefan Johansen to burst forward and feed the front players. An injury to Kris Commons allowed the Norwegian to occupy the No 10 role. It is not only where he is most effective but where he brings better balance to his team.
Johansen linked with Anthony Stokes, John Guidetti and McGregor to shred a home side that could not handle the goal hunger of a forward line who all feasted in the course of the afternoon. Celtic under Deila will inevitably settle, and in doing so are guaranteed to deliver enough of these lop-sided lashings to make any froth about “must win” games – as yesterday’s was presented for Deila – just that, froth. Last season, Celtic blitzed any domestic opposition in the title race. The season before, they did the same. Yet, they harvested 20 points fewer in the first of these two title successes. Celtic’s resources will always overwhelm Scottish rivals over 38 games, if not eight.
Deila said he could tell his team were on a mission to atone for last time out and inside 14 minutes they had as good as achieved that. For by then, they were two up and the contest was over. With the score 4-0 at half-time, Jim McIntyre’s side could have been in for a real horrible hiding. No wonder the Norwegian could purr about his team’s fifth Premiership win in nine attempts, and their first with a real flourish since the 6-1 dismantling of Dundee United.
“It’s a high level performance, we were very up for the game,” he said. “The boys did a fantastic job. I was happy about defence, we didn’t give them anything. We created chances on both sides, created chances, scored on crosses and had set pieces on the level we want.
“We smashed them in the first half. It’s hard to say how that compared to [the 6-1 win over] Dundee United. But to win 5-0 away, someone told me we had big problems here before. Here, we really made a fantastic performance. It’s very pleasing and important to see strikers scoring, we need goals and we’re back on track again.
“That was the response I wanted after the Hamilton game. There were a lot of emotions when you lose games but, again, something in my brain said we created a lot and did positive things in that game and we needed to be clinical. This time we created again – and this time we scored. It’s important we build on this. But we have been doing that and we will continue.”
They haven’t been swamping defences as they did at Dingwall, which left McIntyre – even earlier into a rebuilding job than Deila – to bemoan “a sore day” for his side because of their failure to “do the fundamentals well”.
In four minutes such deficiencies were exposed when Guidetti volleyed in from close in after Mulgrew had headed down a Stokes free-kick. Around ten minutes later Celtic opened up County down the left with Johansen feeding Guidetti. He then scuffed his right-wing cut-back and in doing so set up McGregor to batter the ball past Mark Brown.
A third on the half-hour mark came from the boot of Stokes, who angled a sweet curling effort in at the far post after being set up by Johansen. The fourth, just before half time, was an unholy mess for the home backline. They failed to deal with a Johansen corner, Lustig drawing a save from Brown, before the ball bobbled about and was hooked into the roof of the net by Jason Denayer.
The pick of the bunch undoubtedly was the fifth and final goal that brought a second for Stokes just after the break. On for the injured Emilio Izaguirre, who was removed on a stretcher after damaging his ankle in a tackle with Michael Gardyne, Adam Matthews played a ball in from the left that sat up for Stokes to absolutely belt in from 22 yards. The ball had whizzed past Brown before he had even moved. For County that was symptomatic of the afternoon.