An inability to convert chances combined with lacklustre defending cost Ross County dearly as their woes against Celtic continued.
The Staggies will reflect on an afternoon of huge frustration, with the scoreline failing to reflect some of the problems they caused the champions at various stages.
Some of Celtic’s goals came in gift-wrapped form however, with three from set-pieces, culminating in a thoroughly comfortable afternoon for Neil Lennon’s men.
County shipped 13 goals in three defeats to Celtic last season, leaving Staggies manager Stuart Kettlewell to rue an improved display not being enough to reverse the recent trend of losing heavily to the Parkhead club.
Kettlewell said: “Everyone that was here could see how well we performed in large parts of the game and it’s so hard to take. 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.
“We lost 6-0 at Parkhead last season but it could have been 10-0. I thought we were exceptional this time but we didn’t attack their 18-yard box with real quality in terms of capitalising on our chances.
“When you lose these games 5-0 you think it’s from open play and them carving us open but that wasn’t the case.”
Kettlewell’s gameplan would have been focused on making it hard for Neil Lennon’s men to break them down, but they suffered a nightmare start after just four minutes. It came courtesy of a penalty, awarded by Andrew Dallas after Jordan Tillson had pulled down Odsonne Edouard following a neat-one two with James Forrest. Edouard strode forward to take the penalty, expertly dispatching it into the static Ross Laidlaw’s bottom right corner.
County showed a fine response to the early setback, twice threatening through Iain Vigurs free-kicks. The first attempt was a curling effort which was well held by Vasilias Barkas, before the Staggies skipper was denied by the post with another set-piece from a wide position which evaded everyone.
The Staggies came close again on 18 minutes through Connor Randall, who drilled an effort narrowly wide from the edge of the box.
County conceded a second goal just two minutes later however, with Callum McGregor’s free-kick breaking for Albian Ajeti to slam home a shot on the turn although Laidlaw, who got a strong hand on it, could perhaps have done better.
There was another strong reaction from County, who were twice denied by Barkas, who first held on to a Billy Mckay header, before the attacker turned provider for Ross Stewart to force an even better save from the Greek goalkeeper.
In a further blow, County had to withdraw Mckay shortly afterwards through injury, being replaced by Oli Shaw.
Celtic killed off any hope of a Staggies resurgence on 59 minutes, with Shane Duffy rising to head home his first Hoops goal from a McGregor corner. There was no let up from the visitors, who added a fourth just five minutes later when Kristoffer Ajer got on the end of Olivier Ntcham’s cross to turn home from close-range.
Substitute Patryk Klimala was not to be denied 15 minutes from time when he was released by Mohamed Elyounoussi following a stray Vigurs pass, before drilling past Laidlaw.
There was still a late chance for County when Shaw struck a free-kick off the post, with the lack of luck summing up the Dingwall side’s day. There was no cause for the 300-strong crowd to celebrate, however Kettlewell hopes the test event was a success.
He added: “It was a big difference having fans back in the ground, albeit only 300. It resembled more of a football match and the early indications are we did it really well and the fans conducted themselves right.
“The football club put everything in place and it shows signs that we can take if forward at the beginning of October and maybe get a few more people through the door.”