If anything can whet the appetite for Ross County at home, then surely it is an inconveniently placed international break. In fact, the game was proudly proclaimed a ‘SELL OUT’ on twitter. Come kick off one of two things was clearly transpiring; either Celtic are quoting tickets sold regardless of whether the holder actually bothers to turn up or not or quite a few Celtic fans came cleverly disguised as empty green seats. We’re not Arsenal – it is maybe a personal peeve but just announce the actual attendance and stop pretending these stated figures fool anybody. I will try to keep the moaning to a minimum from now on, I know you come here for the overriding positivity that only a fat, bald guy watching Scottish football on a choppy stream can provide.
The team it was a changing – in came Lustig, Armstrong and Sinclair and dropping down to the bench were Hendry, Ntcham and Edouard. The three coming back in have been underperforming to various degrees this season and it seems the manager reckoned, correctly, that Ross County at home would be a good rehabilitation type game for a few. Certainly, Celtic started in energetic fashion, zipping passes around and looking to get at a clearly confidence shorn County.
On it went like that, Celtic probing and County trying to fend them off. There was less possession for possession’s sake, even early on, and everything looked a lot more lively and free with players lining up to take pot-shots. Both Sinclair and Armstrong looked keen to find the form of last season with a number of shots from the left-hand side of the box. When County did occasionally venture forward (and it was very occasional) they were batted away by Bain or, as evidenced in the 9th minute, eviscerated by now full International Kris Ajer. It wasn’t Benjamin Massing v Caniggia, but it was a really hard, aggressive and well-timed tackle. He continues to impress.
Today though was always going to be about attack – Stuart Armstrong certainly appeared to be trying to send a message with his performance, he really grew into the game and showed why everyone raved about him last season when he was doing this on a consistent basis. Unfortunately, you can’t shake the suspicion that the message he is trying to send is along the lines of “I would quite like to play for Southampton, please” – he looks like he’d be polite about it.
The game was essentially over as a contest after a 15-minute spell that should leave nobody in any doubt about Ross County being where they deserve to be this season. Firstly, Scott Sinclair won a soft(ish) penalty when the County defender (they’re like henchmen in an 80s action movie I don’t know their names) dangled a hoof out for no real reason and tripped the Englishman. Dembélé converted with typical gallic nonchalance.
If you can judge a struggling team by their response to such adversity, then we had yet more evidence that County are boned when Andrew Davies got himself the most ridiculously needless red card you will ever see. Even for one involving Scott Brown. Andrew Davies (the main henchman, you know his name) abandoned position, hope and sanity to launch himself squarely at Scott Brown‘s crotch. It was as naked an attempted dick-kicking as you’ll see. Davies is English, so he may have been defending the fair honour of Joey Barton. That Brown was up and strolling about the park like he owned it 5 minutes later rendered the attack in vain and utterly condemned County to a beating. Rumour has it Davies is still sitting in the away dressing room at Paradise flicking the light switch on and off and muttering to himself “I did it for you, Joseph” as a solitary tear runs down his cheek.
I’m sorry, where were we? Oh yeah, football. Well, after the sending off it is hard to be too kind to Celtic or too rough on County. We were tidy and incisive in parts but as the second half wore on looked a little more lax. Hendry had replaced Boyata at half time and looked very assured if not tested vigorously, Armstrong got himself a fine goal early in the second half and the man with the magnet in his boots Tom Rogic finished neatly after typical nifty footwork to complete the scoring with an hour gone. The rest was rather processional but that is not to say without value.
Lustig and Sinclair both looked a lot better than their last showings. Again, Armstrong was the standout not just of the three but probably the whole team. Whether it was niggling injuries or the contract fandango – Armstrong had regressed more than any of the regulars and it is nice to see him getting back to the level he is capable of. Paddy Roberts and Griffiths could also be introduced to get some much-needed game time though it does seem Charly Musonda may need to be eased in a little more slowly with Rodgers deferring to trusted campaigners at this stage of the season.
It wasn’t perfect, but it was a lot better than Motherwell. It was less of the turgid build-up stuff with no penetration and more of the sweeping flowing attacking we got used to/spoiled by last season. Not a game to live long in the memory but with other results another important step on the road to back to back trebles.
MOTM: Iron-Scrote Scott Brown just for winding everyone in this league up so much. It’s glorious.