CELTIC 3 ROSS COUNTY 0
ALBIAN AJETI hit double tops as Celtic overcame the stubborn challenge from Ross County at a packed and noisy Parkhead this afternoon.
The £5million Swiss striker was thrown into the frontline in the absence of the crocked Kyogo Furuhashi and thanked Ange Postecoglou for his faith in his ability with two crucial strikes in the second-half.
Celtic were already leading with a deflected effort from Cameron Carter-Vickers when Ajeti, who scored only six goals last season, showed some deadly finishing to bury a couple of headers into the net to make sure of the points.
It took just three minutes for Filipe Jota to signal his attentions when he latched onto a pass from another new Bhoy, Carter-Vickers, to hit a shot on target, but keeper Ross Laidlaw saved with confidence.
The keeper was brought into action again in the 16th minute and got a large slice of good fortune to defy Liel Abada as the direct winger zeroed in on the danger zone before firing a drive at goal. The Dingwall No.1 managed to get a touch on the ball to divert it on to the bar and the chance was gone.
SIGN OF THE TIMES…Liel Abada in action in Paradise.
Tom Rogic was easing himself into the action and it was the Aussie playmaker’s through ball that released the Israeli ace.
The pattern of the game had been set with the Hoops charging forward in numbers with the visitors looking to hit on the break.
Callum McGregor burst forward in a neat thrust from the middle of the park and fed a good pass to Ajeti, but the striker’s right-foot drive was straight into the arms of the grateful Laidlaw.
In the 27th minute, David Turnbull slashed one wide of the right-hand post as the Hoops probed for the crucial breakthrough strike.
There was a scare for the Hoops shortly afterwards when the Highlanders worked a good position, but Ross Callachan squandered the opportunity from close range. It was a reminder of what can happen if you don’t take your chances.
Abada was out of luck again when he rattled the crossbar for the second time in the 38th minute. Once again, Rogic was the architect of the opening, but the woodwork came to the rescue of Malky Mackay’s side once more as Laidlaw flapped helplessly.
CHEERS…Ange Postecoglou looks happy after a Hoops strike.
The 19-year-old wide Bhoy was creating mayhem with his menacing darts and shortly afterwards he was quick to snap onto the ball, but was forced wide and his shot went into the side net.
Rogic had a go from well outside the box after some eye-catching inter-passing from his team-mates, but the midfielder’s left-foot drive was waywardly off target as it flew over the crossbar.
Just before the interval, Jota zipped in a right-foot effort, but Laidlaw got down smartly to hold on to the ball.
Greg Taylor was forced off shortly after the interval with what looked like a recurrence of the shoulder injury that saw him removed against AZ Alkmaar. Adam Montgomery came on to take his place at left-back as he did in the Netherlands just over a fortnight ago.
In the 64th minute, Carter-Vickers broke the resolute Highlanders’ barrier after a sweet move on the left between Jota and Montgomery that saw the substitute play the ball inside for the central defender who was up to assist his forwards.
A CAPTAIN’S ROLE…Callum McGregor was in the thick of the action.
The US international took two touches as he strode forward before lashing a 25-yard effort at goal. It took a wicked deflection that saw the ball loop up and over the frantic Laidlaw into the roof of the net.
After striking woodwork twice in the opening half, it was time the Hoops were due a smile from Dame Fortune.
In the 68th minute, Callum McGregor was replaced by Ismaila Soro and only moments afterwards Joe Hart had a superb diving save to his left to push away a scoring header from Dominic Samuel.
And that dramatic intervention from the keeper proved crucial when the Hoops doubled their advantage a minute later.
A right-wing corner-kick from David Turnbull was cleared and played back to Abada. The winger took a quick look up before flighting an excellent ball into the box and Ajeti was unmarked to thump an unstoppable header into the gaping net from six yards. Laidlaw didn’t stand a chance.
AT THE DOUBLE…Albian Ajeti is a Swiss hit.
For obvious reasons of delight and relief, the Swiss frontman looked absolutely overjoyed to get off the mark for the campaign.
Rogic left the field to a standing ovation with James McCarthy coming on in his place in the 78th minute. The Aussie had been handed the captain’s armband by McGregor and he passed it onto netminder Hart to become the Hoops’ third skipper in the one game.
McCarthy made an instant impact when he appeared unmarked in the penalty area to head a long, diagonal header from Turnbull for the top corner.
Laidlaw managed to claw the ball away, but Ajeti was right in line to throw himself forward at the rebound and thud a header into the inviting rigging.
Credit to the Hoops for keeping at the task today against a team that were happy to crowd their area to close down attacking options.
Abada was excellent throughout and it must have made the manager smile to see Ajeti show the form that made the Hoops splash out big cash last summer.
TEAM: Hart; Juranovic, Carter-Vickers, Starfelt, Taylor (sub: Montgomery 46); Turnbull, McGregor (sub: Soro 68), Rogic (sub: McCarthy 78); Abada, Ajeti, Jota.