ROSS COUNTY 0 CELTIC 5
SHANE DUFFY was high and mighty in his debut in Dingwall this afternoon.
The Republic of Ireland defender celebrated his debut for lifelong favourites Celtic with an unstoppable header on their way to a crucial triumph in their bid for a historic 10 in a row.
It was a case of a rise and shine in the 59th minute for Duffy as he bulleted in a right-wing corner-kick to mark his baptism in the hoops.
While the centre-back was doing the business to mark his first appearance, Odsonne Edouard was making up for lost time on his return as he tucked away an immaculate penalty-kick in only four minutes.
The flamboyant Frenchman had to sit out the games against Dundee United and Motherwell through injury, but immediately made an impact on his comeback.
Edouard, a combination of class, composure and killer touch, sauntered through the contest and looked happy to have a frontline partner in Albian Ajeti, who claimed the second goal.
After the third from Duffy, Kristoffer Ajer tucked away an inviting low cross from Olivier Ntcham for the fourth and substitute Patryk Klimala added a fifth.
A LOT OF BOTTLE…Neil Lennon drinks to another three points.
All in, it was a satisfying win and three points for the champions on a ground that could have proved to be a banana skin in tricky conditions in the Highlands.
There will be sterner tests ahead for Duffy and Co, of course, but the new Bhoy will have welcomed 90 minutes’ worth of game time on his arrival.
It took a mere four minutes before the visitors got the ball rolling and it came from a stick-on penalty-kick after Edouard has been clipped and tugged by Jordan Tillson as he raced onto a pass afer a neat one-two with James Forrest on the edge of the box.
Referee Andrew Dallas had no option but to point to the spot and the French ace practically sallied up to the ball before nonchalantly rolling it wide to the baffled Ross Laidlaw’s right. A perfect execution of the award.
In the 13th minute Kristoffer Ajer was booked for a late challenge on Michael Gardyne and Vaslis Barkas made a smart save low at his left-hand post from Iain Vigours’ resultant 25-yard free-kick.
Two minutes later, the Greek international was left flapping when another deadball was sent in from Vigours on the right. The ball bypassed everyone in front of the netminder who was taken by surprise as it spun beyond his flailing right hand before cracking against his right-hand upright and bouncing clear.
In the 20th minute, £5million Swiss international Ajeti doubled the advantage to score in his third successive Premiership outing following his previous strikes against Dundee United and Motherwell.
Forrest was chopped by Vigours on the left and the Ross player was lucky to escape a yellow card for a cynical challenge.
However, a low free-kick from Callum McGregor punished the Highlanders when it broke off Vigours into the path of Ajeti who swivelled eight yards out to zip a low left-foot drive beyond the desperately diving Laidlaw.
NUMBER ONE…Odsonnne Edouard slots in a perfect penalty-kick.
NUMBER TWO…Albian Ajeti (extreme left) turns away after his quickfire strike.
NUMBER THREE…Shane Duffy thumps a header beyond the helpless Ross Laidlaw.
NUMBER FOUR…Kristoffer Ajer tucks the ball behind the keeper from close range.
NUMBER FIVE…Patryk Klimala tucks the ball away to end the scoring.
On the half-hour mark, Barkas pulled off an excellent save to deny Ross Stewart. The tall hitman got on the end of a swinging ball from the left by Billy McKay at the back post to power in a header. It was netbound until the £4.5million shotstopper stretched superbly to paw it away from the line.
So far, new Bhoy Duffy had looked firm and unfussy in his work as he settled into life as a Celt.
Neil Lennon would have been satisfied with what he was witnessing with Edouard and Ajeti clicking early, two intelligent players with the ability to stitch passes together.
Scott Brown patrolled and covered in his usual fashion and Jeremie Frimpong showed he had lost none of the adventure that made him an instant hit with the fans last season.
Christopher Jullien mopped up while Callum McGregor and Olivier Ntcham accepted passes, probed and ran selflessly.
Barkas, too, would have taken some confidence from his sprawling save from Stewart’s header that would have hauled the Highlanders back into the contest. Plus, before that, he showed good hands when he held onto Vigours’ well-struck free-kick when it was 1-0.
Two minutes after the break, the keeper made another top-class save as he swooped to his right to push away a 10-yard effort from Stewart.
In the 56th minute, ref Dallas was forced to book Tillson after the Ross player clattered Brown in a nasty challenge.
Just before the hour mark came Duffy’s big moment as he timed his run towards the danger zone to attack a McGregor corner-kick and Laislaw had utterly no chance as the ball ripped high into the net.
In the 61st minute, Klimala came on for Ajeti and three minutes later Ajer appeared smack in front of goal to knock in the fourth after some fabulous work inside the box on the left by Ntcham.
With 19 minutes to go, Edouard and Ntcham were withdrawn and Ryan Christie and Mohamed Elyououssi came on and within four minutes the Norwegian international set up Klimala for No.5.
The Pole had missed an earlier chance with a shot that was blocked on the line, but on this occasion he swept the ball low past the exposed keeper.
In the 77th minute, David Turnbull was introduced for the first time when he came on for Brown while Ismail Soro replaced McGregor as manager Lennon sought to get the rust out of some players’ limbs.
Ten minutes from the end, the home side were denied a consolation goal when a well-struck free-kick from Oli Shaw hammered off the base of Barkas’ left-hand upright.
But it was the shots on target that mattered for the champions and Lennon would undoubtedly have been pleased with a strong and relentless performance.
TEAM: Barkas; Jullien, Duffy, Ajer; Frimpong, Brown (sub: Turnbull 77), Ntcham (sub: Elyounoussi 71), McGregor (sub: Soro 77), Forrest; Ajeti (sub: Klimala 61), Edouard (sub: Christie 71).