The old guard in the Celtic squad were rested for this game, giving the sparkling and exciting youth players in our ranks another chance to shine. Soro, Turnbull and Hazard all begin the game in the starting eleven after strong performances in recent weeks. Ross County had put us out of the League Cup less than a month previously, and Neil Lennon will be looking for a much improved performance from that day.
The game came to life early, and Christie was unlucky not top open the scoring early when his shot on the turn took a deflection away for a corner, when it could easily have gone anywhere.
The champions were camped in the Ross County half with a succession of corners, but on a breakaway County came close with a glancing header after a cross from the right.
Christie came close again, after a great knockdown from Leigh Griffiths, but his shot was blocked well. Laxalt had an ambitious effort from 16 yards on the left from an Edouard assist, but he couldn't get over it in time to keep the shot down and it soared harmlessly over.
The referee showed his credentials by elbowing Odsonne Edouard in the head, and never even had the decency to book himself. To add insult to injury, he also made the Frenchman leave the field after he had injured him. Shortly after, McGregor had a snatched effort from 25 yards that he dragged wide from a central position.
It was two of the youngsters that would be the key to opening up a packed County defence. Jeremie Frimpong skinned Reid at full back, turned him and broke to the byline and hooked the ball back to an unmarked Turnbull three yards out for an easy finish. A magnificent bit of skill from the little Dutchman to bring about the chance.
On the half hour mark, Christie did well on the right and played Turnbull in, through the channel, to get a ball into the danger area, but it was knocked behind for a corner. Christie tried an effort from 35 yards, but his attempt was as inept as his decision making on this occasion. a woeful effort. Ollie Shaw, the former Hibee, would come on for an injured Stewart up front for County, with ten minutes of the first half remaining. The big centre forward took an injury after an innocuous challenge with Jullien, but was unable to continue after some treatment.
The Dingwall men had another effort from Kelly when a ball in from the right was touched back by Shaw. His effort from just outside the box was fairly tame and easily dealt with by Hazard. Celtic looked to double the lead with an effort from big Eddy. The Frenchman started the move in midfield and played the ball to Christie who in turn found the onrushing Frimpong. The ball across from the full back found Edouard who turned well and got an effort away but it went wide. The ball inside to Christie may have been the better option in hindsight.
Edouard again came close with a curling effort from 25 yards after nifty footwork presented an opportunity, but it drifted wide of the County keepers right hand post.
Ross Draper committed yet another foul without punishment, with an elbow on Ajer. The foul, Whipped in beautifully by Turnbull, was nearly headed home by the big Norwegian, but it went narrowly wide and was adjudged to be offside regardless.
It was a good first half all told, with some decent chances and a good goal against a Ross County team sitting very deep indeed. The plan by County is to defend in numbers and then try to play out when they gain possession, but the lead at half time should make that difficult for them to maintain for ninety minutes. Celtic should be able to find ways to break this defensive line, particularly as the game goes on and the County players tire.
Half time : Celtic 1 Ross County 0The second half started with no changes to Celtic, but Hilton came on for County to replace Michael Gardyne.
A scrappy start to the second half was broken up by a great touch in midfield from Soro who played forward to McGregor who broke quickly. The little midfielder played an inch perfect pass to Griffiths in the channel but the striker was foiled after striking with his favoured left foot, and away for a corner.
Kris Ajer stepped beautifully into midfield, and hi clever footwork opened a chance for Christie who fired slightly over with a curling effort from outside the box.
Celtic pressed fantastically well and a mistake from the under pressure defence was nearly punished by the waiting Leigh Griffiths, but his effort was well saved, however, the little hitman would not be stopped from doubling the Hoops lead. Sewconds later Christie floated the ball in and Griff headed back across goal from 12 yards out and into the open net on the keepers left. A great header and well deserved.
The Ross County back line was starting to show creaks as the pressure mounted and Celtic were beginning to take some control and get some further opportunities.
Somehow County kept oy Edouard and McGregor when both did very well. Griffiths played in Turnbull in the centre left. His ball back was taken by Eddy who turned a defender, but his shot was blocked, but fell to McGregor whose effort was stopped by the keeper and County managed to clear.
Celtic made three changes with Rogic, Ntcham and Johnston coming on to freshen up the side for the final twenty minutes. Christie, Edouard and Turnbull made way.
A wonderful one-two between Frimpong and Griffiths saw the flying Dutchman bear down on the County box, but his cut back to Ntcham was just behind the midfielder, and he couldn't get a good strike off before being blocked.
Rogic slipped the tricky Johnston in on goal, but he chopped back a couple of times before trying an effort, that had too many defenders in front to find its way goalbound.
A fine performance by Leigh Griffiths, was ended on 81 minutes when he was replaced by Albian Ajeti, the Swiss striker, for some much needed game time.
Nice interplay from Laxalt, McGregor and Johnston, saw the young winger pick out Olivier Ntcham in a central position or a strike saved by the keeper, with only five minutes to go. A beautiful passage of play reminiscent of better times.
Hilton had a rare chance in the dying seconds to get a goal back but it was a poor effort which he should have done much better with.
It ended 2 nil to the champions, and it was a comfortable game from start to finish against a very stuffy defensively minded Highland outfit. It has to be said that we look a lot stronger with the current midfield and for once the defence looked strong and in control too. David Turnbull was voted the Dafabet man of the match, but personally I would have given it to Soro who broke up play and started a few attacks too. Edouard and Griffiths up front looked good at times and Ajer was exccellent throughout too.