CELTIC 1 ROSS COUNTY 1
NOT even a spectacular 38th goal of the season from Leigh Griffiths could help Celtic get over their Hampden hangover.
The champions-elect – now nine points clear of Aberdeen with four games to go – had to be content with a drab draw with Ross County in a decidedly low-key encounter at a hushed Celtic Park.
Griffiths gave the fans at least something to cheer with a magnificent goal in the 23rd minute which should have inspired the rest of his team-mates to respond in kind against the team that ended their hopes of a League Cup win earlier in the campaign.
The opposition backed off the international hitman about 30 yards from goal with the ball at his right foot. Possibly, the defenders thought the Hoops marksman would attempt to switch it to his strong left foot.
Griffiths, though, lashed out with an unstoppable effort that simply thundered high into the right-hand corner of Scott Fox’s net. The keeper hadn’t an earthly.
It took that goal to stir the fans from their lethargy at a subdued Parkhead. The atmosphere was flat, a certain reaction to the massive disappointment from last week’s Scottish Cup semi-final failure at the national stadium.
Nir Bitton, looking particularly lethargic, provoked the ire of the supporters when he ambled forward and took five touches before releasing an obvious pass sideways to Kieran Tierney, who, as ever, injected a bit of pace into the forward movement.
The teenage left-back was one player who tried to raise the tempo against the Highlanders who looked fairly content to sit back and hit on the break.
Colin Kazim-Richards, in the team in preference to Kris Commons, Stuart Armstrong and Gary Mackay-Stevens, also felt their wrath with some sloppy play.
Patrick Roberts, roaming free on the right, looked in the mood and he tested Fox with a long-range effort, but the former Celtic rookie got down well to smother the effort.
The on-loan Manchester City winger then picked out Tom Rogic at the far post with a sweeping low cross, but the Australian’s elevation was too high – much like last week’s dreadful penalty-kick at Hampden.
He appeared to lean back at the crucial moment and ballooned the ball widly over the crossbar.
Bitton stirred himself to come forward with the attack and blast in an effort from distance which brought out a fine diving save from Fox as he got down to push the ball round the post for a corner-kick.
The Hoops were given a scare as the first-half ebbed to a close when Irish striker Liam Boyce was left totally unguarded right in front of goal as a cross was delivered into the box by Jonathan Franks.
And the Hoops continued to live dangerously at the start of the second-half when ex-Celt Michael Gardyne passed up a good opportunity and then Dutchman Alex Schalk walloped one off target.
Griffiths – who else? – came close to adding to the lead with a cunning free-kick, but Fox reacted well to get down to save.
County had been threatening to get back on level times for quite awhile and they duly obliged in the 64th minute when Stuart Murdoch slammed a brilliant drive past Gordon.
The keeper, though, was convinced an opposing player was in his line of sight and in an offside position, but referee Don Robertson and his assistant saw nothing wrong with it and the goal stood.
Captain Scott Brown was failing yet again to have an influence on proceedings and several of his passes went astray much to the obvious annoyance of the support.
Bitton also had the fans raging with a shot that flew well over the bar after some good service from the willing Roberts. It was not the Israeli’s finest 90 minutes for the Hoops.
The misfiring Kazim-Richards, whose only goal has come against East Kilbride in the Scottish Cup since his January arrival from Feyenoord, passed up a wonderful opportunity to shoot Celtic back into the lead.
Tierney did the hard work on the left to set it up, but the striker wanted too much time and eventually blasted wide of the upright. The home fans were not impressed.
One of the loudest cheers of a forgettable afternoon came nine minutes from time when Kris Commons was at last introduced as a substitute for the Turkish international.
However, even the fans’ favourite couldn’t lift the team to a grandstand finish in what sadly was an another underwhelming performance.
The reaction from the supporters at the end told its own sad story.
TEAM: Gordon; Lustig, Sviatchenko, Mulgrew (sub: Ambrose 89), Tierney; Brown, Bitton; Roberts, Rogic (sub: McGregor 65), Kazim-Richards (sub: Commons 81); Griffiths.