Celtic crossed off another weekend where our rivals once again couldn’t close the gap

A pipe opener in horse racing parlance is a short, sharp gallop where the horse’s lungs are cleared and its circulatory system stimulated, or a run out in a lesser race before the horse gets down to facing some tough competition.

Celtic at Ross County on the back of the international break and six days prior to a Glasgow Derby had exactly that feel about it. Celtic looked like they needed a wee blow out yesterday and they got it from a well drilled County side, who even when they went a goal behind only offered one additional player to their forward press in the second half.

Celtic now have a week of training together, after only having two days tin each other’s company at the end of last week, as the international brigade returned from the four corners of the globe. And with a visit of theRangers on the horizon this weekend Celtic can all but secure the retention of their league title with a win at Celtic Park in front of only our own support.

There were plenty of positives to take from a performance which certainly didn’t lack for effort but perhaps did for cohesion. Too many chances fizzed between the goal and six-yard box and found no takers, the passing was loose too many times and some of the shooting lacked accuracy, but we went through the motions well enough, protected our goal when it needed it and scored at the end of each half to ensure the win.

Celtic will be all the better for that and some extended time spent getting reacquainted with one another at Lennoxtown ahead of the big one this weekend.

Jota picked up the man of the match award from the Sky Sports crew but Timoki Iwata couldn’t have been far behind our superstar from Portugal, nor would Cameron Carter-Vickers.

The former took the space of his captain in the deep lying playmaker role, whilst Callum McGregor’s energy was preferred to partner O’Reilly further forward, meaning Celtic had energy and recovery pace in the No8 positions, something that would have been lacking had David Turnbull and O’Reilly been selected together.

It worked. Iwata had an impressive game and even when County did add to his woes with an extra man pressing in the second half, he appeared to bough slightly, before finding a second wind and seeing the game out with comfort – and on the back of a controlled performance. It was pleasing to see and Iwata certainly looks another fine piece of squad strengthening from the manager and his recruitment team.

Meanwhile Cameron Carter-Vickers seemed to revel in a game which afforded him the opportunity to get stuck in as well as build from the back in possession and the big fella was simply immense in Dingwall as he has been all season to be fair.

Special mention must also go to Alistair Johnston who was an example of perpetual motion throughout. He appeared to win every 50/50 he competed for and more than a few 70/30’s to boot. It was a shame so much of Celtic’s play appeared to come down the opposite flank, in the first half in particular, because Johnston was having an ‘on it’ day and was unfortunate some of his superb deliveries couldn’t be put away, because a couple of assists were the least the Canadian deserved for his efforts in Dingwall.

The downside to yesterday was seeing Greg Taylor leave the field with what the manager described post-match as a dead leg but one unlikely to keep Taylor out. Time will tell on that one, as anyone who has suffered from it will tell you, it can loosen up in a few hours or it can linger for days and initially looking at a flight of stairs can feel like Ben Nevis staring back.

If Taylor is any doubt for the weekend Alex Bernabei looked on his game when introduced as a substitute, and his fizzing strike for Celtic’s second goal certainly showed there is a real attacking threat in the Argentinian full back, although care with passing and concentration clearly remains a work in progress.

There were also some concerns surrounding Daizen Maeda pre-match, as he returned from international duty without playing and admitting to managing an injury. That was also evident yesterday, as he seemed to struggle to get into full flight and appeared to be protecting himself and as a result played within himself at times. Hopefully a week of training and a watchful eye from the physios can see Maeda back to his best for Saturday, because we’ll need him to open those legs and give theRangers backline something to think about. Hopefully time will be on his side.

It’s on to the next challenge now, after a post international break pipe opener in the Highlands. Celtic will have to perform with more care and cohesion at Celtic Park this weekend, but a week of training together will ensure the Hoops are more than ready for that.

Celtic, rusty as they appeared, got the job done in Dingwall. They cleared their lungs, loosened their muscles and headed back down the A9 with a deserved and welcome three points, which crossed off another weekend where our city rivals once again couldn’t close the gap. Job’s a good ‘un as they say.

Niall J

About Author

As a Bellshill Bhoy I was taken to my first Celtic game in the summer of 1987. It was Billy McNeill’s return to Celtic Park as manager and Celtic lost 5-1 to Arsenal . I thought I was a jinx, I think my Grandfather might have thought the same. It was the finest gift anyone ever gave me when he walked me through Parkhead's gates.

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