CELTIC 4 ROSS COUNTY 0
GIORGOS GIAKOUMAKIS powered in his second hat-trick as Celtic sparkled in the sunshine during this impressive victory over Ross County at a sell-out Parkhead this afternoon.
The Greek hitman was unstoppable as he showed his trio against Dundee at the same venue last month was no fluke.
Giakoumakis is now on 12 goals and will give boss Ange Postecoglou a problem when Kyogo Furuhashi is fit to join the push for the domestic clean sweep. It’s a selection headasche which will be welcomed by the Greek-Australian.
Daizen Maeda also got on in the goalscoring act with a close-range effort early in proceedings during a one-sided confrontation as the Hoops pushed their advantage at the top to six points.
And there was also the welcome sight of David Turnbull, who hasn’t played this year, as he made his comeback as a substitute in the second-half.
There is now the international break before Postecoglou’s men head for Ibrox for the third derby of the campaign a fortnight tomorrow.
THE FIRST OF THREE…Giorgos Giakoumakis turns away after thumping in a header for the opener.
Inside two minutes there was a flash of Filipe Jota following a delightful pass from Tom Rogic. The winger, playing on the right with Maeda on the opposite flank, fired in a thunderous drive from outside the box, but the ball rose just too high as it cleared Ross Laidlaw’s crossbar.
As early as the tenth minute, it was clear the visitors were content to leave the Hoops with possession in their own half as they filtered back in numbers to crowd the areas they would have designated as danger zones.
In the 11th minute, their plans were dynamited when the home side took the lead after Callum McGregor sent Jota running clear on the left.
The Portuguese winger slung in a brilliant ball to the far post where Giakoumakis rose with awesome power to snap a close-range header past the helpless Laidlaw.
Two minutes later, referee Don Robertson denied the home side what looked like a certain penalty when a Jota cross appeared to be palmed away by Joseph Hungbo. It looked a stonewaller, but the match official thought otherwise.
Giakoumakis doubled the advantage in the 18th minute when he displayed superb reflexes in the penaly area after Josip Juranovic had sent over a wonderful ball from the right. Maeda knocked down a header and the Greek hitman sent in an effort that was cleared off the line. The rebound fell to Giakoumakis and this time he buried his header in the inviting net.
The Highlanders’ frustration became obvious with reckless challenges by Ross Callaghan and Kayne Ramsay on Rogic and Maeda. Robertson did not think either was worthy of a yellow card.
It had to be hoped the match official was not offering the Dingwall side a licence to kick.
THREE CHEERS…Giorgos Giakoumakis is congratulated by Carl Starfelt and Cameron Carter-Vickers.
In the 25th minute, Laidlaw pulled off an agile tip-over following a header from Maeda after great service from McGregor and then the keeper denied the Hoops skipper with a dive to his left to push a low drive past the post for a corner-kick.
Jota curled in the set-play, Giakoumakis again rose above friend and foe to glance the ball down for Maeda, six yards out, to react swiftly to turn the ball over the line.
Just before the half-hour mark, Ramsay, who had got away with a diabolic tackle only moments earlier, was red-carded following a studs-up assault on Rogic. It was a horrible challenge and left the ref with absolutely no alternative but to dismiss the defender.
The Aussie playmaker could not continue despite extensive on-the-park treatment and was forced to come off in the 33rd minute with Matt O’Riley taking his place in the engine room.
An instinctive save from Laidlaw foiled Greg Taylor after the defender had charged through the back-tracking defence onto a McGregor pass.
In the 39th minute, some eye-catching interchanging play from Hatate and Maeda fashioned a chance for O’Riley, but, unfortunately, the former MK Dons man swept the ball wide of the target from a great position.
Laidlaw was in action again as the interval came into focus as he managed to block an angled drive from Jota with his left foot.
The first-half came to a close following three minutes added-on time and the players trooped off to a well-deserved ovation from the delighted home support.
It was no surprise when Giakoumakis completed his hat-trick in the 61st minute with a penalty-kick after centre-back Alex Iacovitti handled an O’Riley header. There was no hesitation from the referee as he pointed to the spot.
WELCOME BACK…David Turnbull made his return as a substitute for Reo Hatate.
The Greek frontman calmly rolled the ball to Laidlaw’s right as the valiant keeper took off to his left.
A minute later, Postecoglou sent on Liel Abada and Anthony Ralston for Jota and Juranovic as he freshened up the team to give some game-time to his squad.
And in the 74th minute, there was a special cheer for David Turnbull as he made his first appearance of 2022 as he replaced Hatate while Nir Bitton came on for McGregor who handed the captain’s armband to the Israeli international.
The Hoops coasted to the victory as the crown comes into focus.
Seven games to go – and counting.
TEAM: Hart; Juranovic (sub: Ralston 62), Starfelt, Carter-Vickers, Taylor; Rogic (sub: O’Riley 33), McGregor (sub: Bitton 74), Hatate (sub: Turnbull 74); Jota (sub: Abada 62), Giakoumakis, Maeda.