Celtic earned their 10th consecutive victory in all competitions by beating Ross County to maintain their place at the top of the Scottish Premiership.
Ryan Christie converted a penalty at the second attempt after Lewis Morgan was fouled, then he coolly restored the lead just before the break after Ross Stewart’s header had levelled.
Tom Rogic and Mikey Johnston netted after the interval as Celtic took their tally to 37 points from a possible 42 and put pressure on rivals Rangers, who face Hearts later on Sunday.
County had a late effort by Stewart disallowed for offside, but the Dingwall side are now nine games without a win and remain eighth, three points clear of bottom spot.
Sparkling Christie downs County
Any concerns over the creative and clinical capacity of Celtic’s attacking line without Odsonne Edouard were quickly removed by the speed and tenacity of Christie and Lewis Morgan.
With just five minutes on the clock, Morgan took on two defenders down Celtic’s right only to be clumsily tripped by Keith Watson. Christie looked poised to deliver the dead ball into the crowded box, but instead he opted to try and tuck it inside the front post, smacking the woodwork with his attempt.
The Highlanders weren’t afforded as much good fortune six minutes later when a poor clearance bobbled to the feet of Morgan, who duly nipped past Watson before a late tackle caught the Celtic player. Christie again stepped up and, although his initial shot was saved by Nathan Baxter, he comfortably tapped home the rebound. Celtic had their opening goal.
An onslaught from the Scottish champions seemed likely, but County were offered a rare respite from waves of attack when Jeremie Frimpong brought Stewart down in pursuit of a long punt up the park.
Most of Josh Mullin’s 15 assists in last season’s Scottish Championship came from dead-ball deliveries and his set piece that curled over the Celtic defence and towards Stewart, who headed home. It was an inch-perfect cross for a striker who now has nine goals to his name this season.
The unexpected response seemed to unsettle Celtic, but within 15 minutes, the visitors struck once more. Again, the ingenuity and finishing of Christie was on show, alighting upon Kristoffer Ajer’s pass through the middle and sliding past Baxter with his left foot to ensure Celtic’s lead at half time.
Although Celtic didn’t bring the same attacking threat to the second half as they did in the first, they still did enough to turn the game further in their favour.
Just before the hour, Callum McGregor cannoned an effort against a post and, shortly afterwards, Morgan started the move the yielded a third goal. The forward darted down the left and cut the ball across County’s six-yard box. Greg Taylor dummied, Christie flicked it on, then Rogic ended the move with a deflected shot inside the back post.
Lennon introduced Johnston and, within two minutes, the forward picked up the ball on the left and jinked between two defenders with ease before angling into the far corner of the net. A signature goal from the young attacker.
County would have a seemingly legitimate goal ruled offside when Stewart’s finish was disallowed because Brian Graham had been offside when the initial cross was made. But a consolation goal would not have masked another poor result for the promoted side.
Man of the match – Ryan Christie
BBC Scotland’s Eilidh Davies at Global Energy Stadium
Christie proved to be hugely influential. The 24-year-old hit the bar early on, scored twice, and was involved in the third goal, scored by Rogic.
His movement and work rate paid dividends for the Parkhead side and he is now the top scorer for Neil Lennon’s side this term with 15 goals. Hard to believe that, little over a year ago, he was a bit-part player at Celtic.