Ross County could not escape a familiar outcome against Celtic despite a vastly improved showing against the Premiership champions at Parkhead.
The Staggies went into the first instalment of their Old Firm double-header more organised than in their previous trip to Celtic Park – in which a chastening afternoon resulted in a 6-0 defeat.
Although another three goals followed on this occasion, the Staggies made Neil Lennon’s men work much harder for their victory.
County created no shortage of first-half chances, with Josh Mullin and Blair Spittal at the heart of their attacking play, but their failure to take them left co-manager Steven Ferguson wondering what could have been.
Celtic led at the interval through Callum McGregor’s penalty.
Odsonne Edouard, whom Lennon had the luxury of listing as a substitute, came off the bench to finish off the job with a quickfire double.
Despite falling to defeat, Ferguson was pleased with his side’s execution of the gameplan.
He said: “There was a marked improvement in our performance from the last time we were here.
“We wanted to make sure we were in the game, but also wanted to offer a threat at the top end of the pitch.
“The chances we created probably suggested we got that right and the players did what was expected of them on the day.
“Unfortunately we never took the chances, which means you are always vulnerable to conceding a goal at Parkhead given the quality Celtic have in their team.
“I don’t want to sit here as a glorious loser – we’re still disappointed in losing the game 3-0.
“Personally, and in the dressing room, we don’t think there was that in the game, but we need to accept it and dust ourselves down.”
County drafted in veteran midfielder Don Cowie for his first start since April, having recently returned from a knee injury.
He replaced Billy Mckay from the side which drew with Hearts in midweek in a tactical switch which gave the Staggies an extra man in the heart of the field.
Celtic had the first early chance on 10 minutes, when Leigh Griffiths flighted in a free kick from the left which picked out the untracked Christopher Julien, however Nathan Baxter did well to beat the effort away.
It was an isolated threat from the hosts though, with the Staggies otherwise looking comfortable and at times stylish in their possession of the ball. Their first glimpse came on the counterattack, with Spittal releasing Mullin, but his driven attempt from an acute angle was comfortably clutched by Fraser Forster.
The pair combined once again on 21 minutes, and nearly to great effect as Spittal’s crisp diagonal ball released winger Mullin, who attempted to catch out Forster with a first time lob but couldn’t keep the effort down.
County’s best chance of the first half fell to Spittal on 26 minutes. Mullin did well to pounce on slackness from Jozo Simunovic, before his cutback arrived but, despite having time to angle his effort, Spittal slipped his 14-yard shot wide of target.
The Staggies could have been punished within less than a minute later. Baxter’s reflexes came to their rescue as he stooped low to make a superb block to thwart James Forrest’s header from a Mikey Johnston delivery.
Play continued to soar from end to end, and Cowie was next to threaten on 29 minutes with an angled low drive from the edge of the box which crept inches wide.
County’s fine work was undone on 37 minutes when Keith Watson was adjudged to have brought down Johnston inside the box, with McGregor stepping up to hammer the penalty low past Baxter, who could not reach the effort despite going the right way.
The introduction of Edouard for Griffiths on 63 minutes proved pivotal.
Edouard’s first goal was sloppy from a County perspective, with the Frenchman able to meet McGregor’s corner to guide a header home from close range.
Edouard doubled his tally only three minutes later, with Forrest setting up the attacker to coolly sidefoot past Baxter.
Spittal had another opportunity to reduce the deficit but Forster made a fine block.