Celtic flattered by five-goal haul in front of socially-distanced crowd

Five different scorers for champions, including debut boy Duffy

Saturday, 12th September 2020, 5:43 pm
Updated Saturday, 12th September 2020, 11:09 pm
Celtic manager Neil Lennon with debutant Shane Duffy (centre) and Scott Brown (right) after the win over Ross County. (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)

If the thought that even having a small knot of fans back in a football stadium would make the spectacle feel more familiar, it didn’t work out that way. Here was an oddity of an afternoon all round, frankly.

Celtic were flattered by a five-goal haul – the most notable strike coming from debutant Shane Duffy – in which their keeper Vasilis Barkas was crucial, and in spells during the first period the Highland club exhibited a fluency their visitors couldn’t match. With the 300 County followers seated symmetrically in socially distanced rows, and initially only prone to bouts of polite applause, there was a choreography to this Covid-19 test event that wouldn’t have seemed out of place in a North Korean celebration.

Celtic: Get the latest team news, match previews and reports

Celtic: Get the latest team news, match previews and reports

There wasn’t much regimented about Celtic in the first period – even allowing for Odsonne Edouard getting them off to the perfect start four minutes in when a jersey pull from Jordan Tillson allowed him to convert from an elongated, stuttering penalty run-up. Albian Ajeti demonstrated his predatory instincts to spin in a blur and thump in a close-range shot Ross Laidlaw allowed to go through him after 20 minutes, but still Celtic seemed vulnerable.

Duffy contributed with a couple of shaky moments, and across the encounter Barkas had to make three smart blocks, while Stuart Kettlewell’s men also had two efforts clip the goalframe.

It was a strange pattern that developed, with Brighton loanee Duffy berthed in a back three as Lennon switched to 3-5-2, before he required to switch his players on fully with stern comments at half-time.

“I had to have a word with the players at half-time,” the Celtic manager said. “We were just too passive for my liking and a little bit slow tempo with the ball and that’s not the way we want to play. Second half was a lot better. We closed the distances a lot better.”

County lost a little heart after Duffy climbed steeply to power in a 59th-minute header from a Callum McGregor corner. “We all know what the club means to him, to score on his debut was just great,” said Lennon. “I think after the goal he just looked peerless, just outstanding. He’s getting used to us, our style of play and we’re getting used to him. But it’s been a good day’s work for him.”

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Shane Duffy bursting with pride but glad Celtic debut is over

An ultimately good day’s work for Celtic brought a fourth and fifth goal in the closing stages. Kristoffer Ajer, pictured inset, billowed the net from a driven-in low cross from Olivier Ntcham in 64 minutes. It allowed Lennon to introduce a raft of substitutions, and a classy cameo on his debut from David Turnbull and Patryk Klimala thumping in a 75th-minute fifth for the Scottish champions allowed Lennon to gush over a range of positives. “I was delighted to put him [Turnbull] on,” said the Celtic manager. “He’s a good player and showed some nice touches, as did Soro when he came on.

“I think we’ve done good business in the window and if we don’t bring in any more players, hopefully, don’t lose any more, I’ll be really happy with what we’ve got.”

Contrastingly, Kettlewell could only despair at the unfairness of the day’s events, while claiming the 300 fans made a “big difference” in making the encounter “resemble more of a football match”.

“Everyone that was here could see how well we performed in large parts and it’s so hard to take,” the Ross County manager said. “I won’t make a case for getting something out of the game when you lose 5-0 but we never went on the back foot.”

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