By Ronnie Esplin
Ryan Christie’s first-half brace helped Celtic to an accomplished 4-1 Ladbrokes Premiership win over Ross County at the Global Energy Stadium.
After winning their Europa League group with an emphatic victory over Rennes on Thursday night, it took only 11 minutes of the Hoops’ return to domestic duties to take the lead with Christie firing in the rebound after his penalty had been parried back out to him by Staggies keeper Nathan Baxter.
Home striker Ross Stewart headed in a leveller in the 23rd minute but Christie restored the visitors’ lead in the 37th minute with a composed finish.
Returning midfielder Tom Rogic netted with a deflected drive in the 67th minute before his replacement Mikey Johnston immediately added a fourth as the champions ran out easy winners.
It was the 10th successive victory for Neil Lennon’s in-form side, in contrast to the struggling Staggies who have now gone nine matches without a win, although few teams in Scotland could have kept the Hoops at bay.
Indeed, Celtic’s form could hardly be better as they turn their attention to the visit of Hamilton on Wednesday before the Betfred Cup final against Rangers at Hampden Park.
For the lunchtime kick-off in a freezing Dingwall, Lennon recalled right-back Jeremie Frimpong – not registered for Europe – with Rogic also starting in place of injured Olivier Ntcham, with makeshift centre-forward Lewis Morgan retaining his place in the absence of Odsonne Edouard who is still struggling with a niggle.
County showed three changes with Keith Watson, Harry Paton and Lee Erwin coming into a side which had gone eight games without a win – four draws and four defeats – since their victory against Motherwell in September at Fir Park.
There was no early evidence to suggest that poor record would improve.
Christie struck the post with a whipped-in free-kick after five minutes before Rogic’s shot was deflected past for the first of two corners in quick succession.
The home side survived but only momentarily.
When referee Nick Walsh pointed to the spot after Morgan was felled by Dingwall defender Keith Watson inside the box, Christie’s penalty was blocked by Baxter but the Scotland international followed up to slam in the rebound.
County’s equaliser was unexpected.
After Frimpong was booked for a foul on Stewart down the left flank, Josh Mullin curled the free-kick to the back post and Stewart headed past keeper Fraser Forster. It was that simple.
Celtic quickly resumed control of possession and defender Kristoffer Ajer’s through pass took out the County defence with Christie running through to steer the ball low past Baxter.
Midfielder Callum McGregor smacked the post with a drive in the 58th minute as Celtic resumed control of the second half, with their third arriving soon enough.
Morgan found space in the box and his cross from the left eventually landed at Rogic via McGregor and his deflected shot gave Baxter no chance.
Rogic was soon replaced by Johnston who slalomed into the County box a minute later before planting the ball behind the Staggies keeper to put Celtic out of sight.
Stewart had the ball in the net again in the 83rd minute only to be ruled offside, before Forster saved an effort from substitute Brian Graham, on for Erwin, but by then the points were destined for Glasgow.