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BRENDAN SAYS “WOW!” AS LEIGH SCORES WONDER GOAL

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ROSS COUNTY 0 CELTIC 1

A GLORIOUS 25-yard free-kick stunner from substitute Leigh Griffiths gave Celtic the deserved points and stretched their historic unbeaten domestic run to an amazing 64 games.

The striker’s magnificent 78th-minute effort also maintained the champions’ 100 per cent record on the road this season with their seventh successive triumph.

It wasn’t pretty in Dingwall, but good, fast-flowing football on this pitch is impossible. The grass looked as though it could do with a trim and the surface needed a roll or two. The Hoops tried to play their usual passing game, but it’s not easy on a surface that looks as though it’s used for the locals’ weekly caber-tossing competition.

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As expected, the Highlanders set out to frustrate Brendan Rodgers’ side and hit on the break. For a massive percentage of the 93 minutes, the entire team camped in their own half and refused point-blank to even attempt to entertain.

Owen Coyle’s team weren’t slow to put themselves about and their marking at corner-kicks resembled something from a New York subway in rush hour. They pushed, jostled, shoved and held opponents and rookie referee Nick Walsh let them away with it.

So, it was somewhat ironic that the only goal of the game arrived after yet another foul that brought about the deadball award that produced the only goal of a stuffy confrontation.

Only moments earlier, Ross Draper was merely warned for yet another foul on Scott Brown. The free-kick was taken and Jim O’Brien clattered into Stuart Armstrong and was duly booked.

Griffiths, a 65th-minute substitute for Callum McGregor, lined up the effort and surveyed the situation. Then he stepped up to make a perfect connection to send the ball arcing over the defensive wall and into the top left-hand corner of keeper Aaron McCarey’s net.

It was a goal fit to win any match, a delicious piece of skill and accuracy from the Hoops hitman who raced off to take the acclaim of the travelling support.

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Until that point, the champions had huffed and puffed against a team that simply refused to commit to the contest. They filtered back in numbers and attempted to stifle the opposition.

They came within 12 minutes of getting a point, but justice was undoubtedly done when Griffiths’ deadball effort strangled itself in the roof of the Ross County rigging.

Remarkably, it took the visitors 55 minutes to get a shot of target and Moussa Dembele’s curling right-footer from just outside the box was straight into the chest of the grateful McCarey.

Until then, the keeper’s main concern was dealing with corner-kicks while the men in front of him clambered all over green-and-white jerseys.

Scott Sinclair sent in a stream of left-wing deadball efforts in the first-half, but they lacked pace and cunning and were being cleared far too easily.

It was no suprise that McGregor took the ones after the break and then Griffiths accepted the responsibility after the new Scotland cap went off.

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This was not one of Sinclair’s more memorable outings for the Hoops. That was highlighted in two moments near the end of the game when he was presented with a couple of reasonable chances, but failed to hit the target on each occasion.

The first came after he was sent clear following a delightful slip from Griffiths, but last season’s 25-goal man, with a clear sight of McCarey, wastefully left-footed the ball wide of the upright.

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Almost immediately, Olivier Ntcham, a late substitute from Dembele, had a header from a Griffiths corner cleared and the ball fell to Sinclair, lurking on the edge of the box.

Once again, however, he hurried his shot and sent it tamely into the crowd.

Celtic will require a more on-the-ball Sinclair when they travel to Paris for their Champions League encounter against PSG on Wednesday.

It’s unlikely Neymar and Co will adopt Ross County tactics and play for a goalless draw.

And what is it about Dingwall and dodgy penalty-kick claims? Last season, the home side were awarded a ludicrous spot-kick after cheating Alex Schalk’s nonsensical dive following a non-challenge from Erik Sviathenko.

This time around, French defender Christopher Routis clipped McGregor and knocked him off balance in the 24th minute.

It was a clear foul and the award should have been mandatory. The match official waved play on. Another honest mistake by the man in charge.

However, at the end of the day, there was no stopping the Brendan Rodgers’ Express. Next up it’s Paris and then on to Hampden a week tomorrow for the first silverware of the season.

TEAM: Gordon; Lustig, Boyata, Bitton, Tierney; Brown, Armstrong; Forrest (sub: Hayes 65), McGregor (sub: Griffiths 65), Sinclair; Dembele (sub: Ntcham 81).

NEW CQN PODCAST, KEVIN MILES IN SESSION, SENSATIONAL!

A Celtic State of Mind presents its 24th instalment of insightful discussion into the culture of Celtic Football Club, the city of Glasgow, and fans of the reigning invincible Scottish champions.

In the first ‘A Celtic State of Mind: In Session’ show, Paul John Dykes and Kevin Graham are joined by former Yashin frontman, Kevin Miles.

Kevin is supporting the Celtic Foundation’s Christmas Campaign by releasing a charity single, ‘Celtic, My Heart and My Soul’, and he joined The CQN Podcast at The Tolbooth Studio in Stirling to play an exclusive acoustic rendition of his magnificent ballad.

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As well as playing a further three tracks, Kevin also speaks of his passion for Celtic Football Club, and explains why he wanted to support the Foundation this year.

The CQN Podcast has gone from strength-to-strength over the last few months, and there are many more guests lined up in the months ahead from the world of sport, music, film, art, broadcasting, literature and politics.

Connect with A Celtic State of Mind @PaulDykes, @anorthernprose and @CQNMagazine and subscribe to the podcast via iTunes or through your podcast player.

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