CELTIC 2 ROSS COUNTY 0
WELL, that’s one down and 37 to go for Ronny Deila’s Bhoys as Celtic kicked off the new campaign with a comfortable win against the Highlanders at Parkhead.
The Hoops boss will be satisfied, but he will also have noted that keeper Craig Gordon had to bail out his dfefence a couple of times in the second-half when the men in front of him switched off.
Celtic were coasting just after the half-hour mark, two goals to the good and moving the ball around sweetly with the Dingwall side, with five former Hoops youngsters in the line-up, chasing shadows.
It took only three minutes for the champions to take the lead on a flag-happy day, Lisbon Lion John Clark doing the honours before kick-off.
Virgil van Dijk ambled forward in his usual leisurely fashion before slipping a deceptive low ball into the path of the alert Leigh Griffiths.
County skipper Andrew Davies was taken unawares with the sheer speed of the frontman as he raced in behind him.
Davies made a clumsy contact to send the striker crashing to the ground. There was little doubt about the award and referee Willie Collum duly pointed to the spot.
Griffiths, who missed against Stjarnan in the Champions League earlier in the campaign, dusted himself down before lashing his effort at goal.
It lacked precision, though, and the player must have heaved a sigh of relief as it went under the diving body of Scott Fox as he took off for his left-hand corner.
The goal came at a price, though. Griffiths had to have treatment, but failed to respond and he departed the field in the 19th minute to be replaced by Stefan Scepovic.
With the Champions League return against Qarabag looming on Wednesday, there was no chance Celtic were going to take any risks with their on-fire hitman.
There was a heart-in-your-mouth moment in the 22nd minute when Gordon raced outside his box to deal with a long ball over the top of the defence.
Jackson Irvine, who left the champions during the week for the Highland outfit, had made a splendid run forward with Efe Ambrose out of position.
Gordon made slight contact with the Aussie midfielder and he went sprawling. The match official issued a yellow card, obviously satisfied that it was not a goalscoring opportunity with the ball running wide of goal.
In the 34th minute Stefan Johansen doubled Celtic’s advantage with a superb, intricate passing movement that left him with a shooting opportunity inside the box.
The Norwegian started the move with a pass to Scott Brown who switched it left to Kieran Tierney. He touched it back to the skipper who brought Stuart Armstrong into play and he sent the ball onto Gary Mackay-Steven.
His progress was halted momentarily, but he got a break, slipped it in front of Johansen and he left Fox without an earthly with a crisp shot low to the keeper’s left.
Gordon showed his remarkable levels of concentration in the 57th minute when he denied County a breakaway goal.
Craig Curran was left with a clear sight of goal and lashed the ball to the keeper’s right. The international got down quickly to block the effort and Celtic sped upfield in a classic counter attack.
Scepovic sent Armstrong in on the left, he rounded Fox and whipped the ball low across the six-yard box, but Ian McShane got back to bundle the ball for a corner-kick.
Substitutes Saidy Janko and Kris Commons came on for Tierney and Johansen on the hour mark with the Swiss Under-21 star moving to right-back with Ambrose switching to the left.
Two minutes later Michael Gardyne, another former Celtic in the County ranks, had a decent effort from just outside the box after a right-wing corner-kick, but his shot swirled wide of the far upright.
Gordon came to the rescue again in the 65th minute as his team-mates in front of him took their collective eye off the ball.
Marcus Fraser made great progress on the right as he tricked his way past Ambrose and Armstrong before fizzing a good ball across the box.
Raffael De Vita hit it full on the turn, but the keeper managed to throw up his hands to push the drive to safety.
In the 70th minute, Commons raced onto a Boyata pass and slammed in a ferocious drive from 25 yards, but this time it was Fox’s turn to shine with a flying save.
Fox denied Commons again after he had been set free by Armstrong. The keeper pushed the ball round the past for Celtic’s 13th corner-kick of the afternoon.
Overall, it was a neat and controlled display by the four-in-a-row champions, but they know they will get it a lot tougher in Azerbaijan on Wednesday.
TEAM: Gordon; Ambrose, Boyata, Van Dijk, Tierney (sub: Janko 60); Brown, Johansen (sub: Commons 60); Forrest, Armstrong, Mackay-Steven; Griffiths (sub: Scepovic 19). Unused subs: Bailly, Rogic, Bitton, McGregor.
PS Paul67 will post his thoughts on today’s game later this evening.