ROSS COUNTY 0 CELTIC 2
CELTIC were more determined than dynamic in Dingwall this afternoon, but they got the job done to restore their nine-point advantage at the Premiership summit.
The champions had to rely on an unsaveable stoppage-time strike from substitute Alexandro Bernabei before they eased the tension against a side battling for their top-flight futures.
It took a penalty-kick from Filipe Jota, the last action in the fifth-minute of added-on time in the first-half, to give the visitors the advantage.
It wasn’t breathtaking and wasn’t particularly easy on the eye, but the main thing at this stage of the campaign is to gain a victory to ensure three points.
HOOP HOOP HOORAY…Filipe Jota is congratulated by captain Callum McGregor and his team-mates after slotting away a penalty-kick for the opener in Dingwall.
The Hoops were strangely lethargic in the first 40 minutes much to the annoyance of a clearly-frustrated Ange Postecoglou on the touchline.
The ball was given away far too often for the manager’s liking and Ross Laidlaw had only one save to make when Daizen Maeda rushed an effort with the keeper in no-man’s land in the 24th minute.
The winger could have elected to do an assortment of things, but hit his shot straight at the County No.1 who had strayed from his line as a long ball sent Maeda racing clear.
Greg Taylor had been out luck in the 42nd minute before Jota fired the Hoops into the lead from a stoppage-time penalty-kick.
The left-back cut inside onto his right foot to curl a 20-yard effort away from the sprawling Laidlaw, but, unfortunately, the ball smacked off the far post and ricocheted to safety.
Taylor was then foiled by a block by the netminder at his near post before the visitors were awarded a VAR-assisted penalty-kick.
SPOT ON…Filipe Jota claims the opener with a stoppage-time time penalty-kick.
Referee Willie Collum was instructed to look again at an incident on the stroke of the interval when Alex Iacovatti cleared a Matt O’Riley left-wing corner-kick from Cameron Carter-Vickers.
Pictures showed the Dingwall defender had used his left hand and the match official had no hesitation in point to the spot.
It was certainly in the soft category, but that didn’t prevent Jota from drilling the ball down the middle of the goal as Laidlaw took off from his right.
The Portuguese ace, in fact, had squandered a great opportunity 10 minutes earlier after he had been set up by the hard-working Alistair Johnston.
The Canada World Cup right-back evaded two challenges before setting up Jota who took a touch before blazing wildly over the crossbar.
OOPS…Kyogo Furuhashi passes up a great chance of doubling Celtic’s advantage as he hits the ball wide of the post with Ross Laidlaw helpless.
Johnston was also involved in 10 minutes when he nodded an O’Riley free-kick across goal, but Carter-Vickers’ timing was out as he headed over from only four yards.
In the 52nd minute, a suicidal ball from Carl Starfelt across the penalty box fell to Gwion Edwards, but, thankfully, he struck his shot wide of the post with Hart stranded.
Four minutes later, Iacovetti hacked a shot from Jota clear after the winger had rounded Laidlaw as he raced onto a Kyogo through ball.
But it took a superb reflex save from Hart to repel the Highlanders when he touched a header from George Harmon to safety before Kyogo had an amazing miss in the 62nd minute.
Maeda had powered away from Dylon Smith on the left before picking out his countryman in the box.
NO WAY THROUGH…Oh Hyeon-gyu sees his shot blocked by Ross County keeper Ross Laidlaw.
The 26-goal striker took a touch to steady himself and then astonishingly sidefooted the ball past the post from 12 yards.
Taylor limped off two minutes later after a clash of knees with Connor Randall and 11 minutes later Postecoglou made a triple change when Oh Hyeon-gyu, David Turnbull and Sead Haksabanovic replaced Kyogo, O’Riley and Maeda.
Oh was out of luck when Laidlaw made a brilliant double save and shortly afterwards the South Korean forward turned Smith as he latched onto a long ball from Hart. He swept into the box, but, unfortunately, his final shot crept past the far post.
Eight minutes of stoppage-time were conjured up and in the first of them Jota rattled the crossbar with a left-foot 20-yarder that left the keeper standing.
HIGHLAND FLING…Alexandro Bernabei celebrates his wonder strike for Celtic’s second goal.
However, the points were in the bag when Argentinian Bernabei blasted in the second goal from outside the box.
Turnbull and Jota worked a corner-kick on the right before the Portuguese wizard weaved into the danger zone.
He whipped a low ball across the area which was intelligently dummied by Haksabanovic and Bernabei arrived bang on time to launch an unstoppable drive high past Laidlaw.
Rocco Vata came on for Jota as the Hoops played out time with the win secure.
Now all eyes are on Parkhead on Saturday when Michael Beale’s Ibrox side are the visitors.
TEAM: Hart; Johnston, Starfelt, Carter-Vickers, Taylor (sub: Barnabei 64); Iwata, McGregor, O’Riley (sub: Turnbull 75); Jota (sub: Vata 96), Kyogo (sub: Oh 75), Maeda (sub: Haksabanovic 75).