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Celtic 4-2 Ross County – The Verdict: Player ratings, talking points and star man as Staggies undone by clinical Hoops side

Despite the Staggies' encouraging start, the champions took all three points in Brendan Rodgers' first game since returning to Parkhead.

Josh Sims brings down Greg Taylor in the incident which led to Celtic's penalty. Image: SNS
Josh Sims brings down Greg Taylor in the incident which led to Celtic's penalty. Image: SNS

Ross County will have plenty scope for encouragement despite falling to opening day defeat against Celtic at Parkhead.

County made an excellent start to the match and caused some nervy moments for the home side, in Brendan Rodgers’ first competitive game since returning to Glasgow.

Simon Murray was a particularly lively presence, nearly capitalising on some slack defending in the early stages, but the the home side broke the deadlock against the run of play on 17 minutes.

Josh Sims was penalised for tripping Greg Taylor inside the box, with David Turnbull stepping up to send Ross Laidlaw the wrong way.

David Turnbull celebrates his opener for Celtic against Ross County. Image: SNS

Celtic doubled their advantage on 26 minutes when a Laidlaw goal kick was quickly returned into County territory, with Liel Abada crossing for Kyogo to tuck home.

The Staggies’ hopes were virtually killed off three minutes before the break, when Turnbull netted his second from a tight angle following Matt O’Riley’s delivery.

County fought their way back into the game just after the hour mark however, when Jordan White guided a Yan Dhanda corner beyond Hart into the far corner.

Matt O’Riley made it 4-1 with a well placed strike, but a deflected James Brown effort in stoppage time restored the two-goal deficit.

Promising start which could have brought about different outcome

The Staggies arrived in Glasgow’s east end intent on spoiling the title party and they wasted no time in making life difficult for the champions.

Mackay’s men were firmly on the front foot in the opening quarter hour, with their relentless pressing unsettling the Celtic rearguard and forcing a succession of corners.

Murray was in prolific form during the Viaplay Cup group campaign, which he ended with six goals to his name, and he was at the heart of County’s early threat. Murray set up an early opening for Sims, before he cut inside to carve open a shot for himself which was unfortunate to be deflected wide of the post.

Ross County boss Malky Mackay. Image: PA

The main talking point during County’s early swathe of attacking threat came when Murray managed to intercept a loose pass back towards Joe Hart, but lost his footing as he looked to round the Celtic goalkeeper.

Celtic’s breakthrough came from the penalty spot on 17 minutes after Sims’ clumsy foul on Taylor, with Turnbull’s well-dispatched strike sure to have come as a relief to the home support.

Staggies undone by clinical Celtic side – but defensive unit will grow stronger

The home side rallied after their opener, with Kyogo doubling the lead nine minutes later before Turnbull added his second shortly before the interval.

Having largely shown a good account of themselves, County suddenly found themselves in a damage limitation position as they approached the second half.

Jack Baldwin challenges Celtic’s Liel Abada. Image: SNS

Although Matt O’Riley struck a fourth for the home side, goals from Jordan White and James Brown ensured County did not go down without a fight.

Will Nightingale has been drafted into the heart of County’s defence and partnered skipper Jack Baldwin for the first time, while goalscorer Brown took the right back berth to allow Connor Randall to move into midfield.

James Brown in action against Celtic. Image: SNS

Clearly, County were up against a standard of opponent they will not face every week during the Premiership campaign. While the nature of some of the goals they conceded was disappointing, Mackay will be confident his backline will only improve as a unit with more games together.

Randall’s versatility well utilised by Mackay

During the Viaplay Cup campaign, Mackay occasionally deployed right back Connor Randall in the heart of his midfield. The Staggies boss clearly liked what he saw, as Randall lined up alongside Victor Loturi in a sitting role in front of the defence.

Randall’s defensive instincts will allow him to add an extra layer of protection to County’s rearguard, and he was able to limit the space for some of Celtic’s most creative outlets.

Connor Randall chases down Celtic’s Callum McGregor. Image: SNS

The Englishman is a versatile option for Mackay, having also shown himself capable of playing on the right side of a defensive three.

With midfielder Jordan Tillson still on his way back from injury, and defender Ben Purrington also close to being back in the reckoning, Mackay will have options to pick from in the coming weeks.

There was concern when Scott Allardice went off with a jarred knee just 10 minutes after coming on as a second half substitute, however Mackay insists the injury is not as bad as initially feared.

Talking tactics

Malky Mackay’s opening league selection was the same as that which started against Kelty Hearts in the final Viaplay Cup group fixture against Kelty Hearts.

It meant Jordan White played in behind Simon Murray with Josh Sims and Yan Dhanda providing width, with Connor Randall moving inside to a central midfield position alongside Victor Loturi.

Referee watch

Nick Walsh was quick to dismiss any suggestion County may have had a penalty when Murray went to ground under the close attentions of Hart. He was given little option but to point to the spot in the move which led to Celtic’s opener however.

Player ratings

CELTIC (4-3-3): Hart 6; Ralston 6, Carter-Vickers 6, Nawrocki 6 (Starfelt 66), Taylor 6; O’Riley 7 (Holm 84), McGregor 7, Turnbull 8 (Hatate 66); Abada 7 (Yang 79), Maeda 6, Kyogo 7 (Forrest 79).

Subs not used: Bain, Oh, Kwon, Iwata.

ROSS COUNTY (4-2-3-1): Laidlaw 7; Rrown 7, Nightingale 6, Baldwin 6, Harmon 6; Randall 6, Loturi 6 (Allardice 57 (Henderson 67)); Sims 6 (Turner 57), White 6 (Smith 82), Dhanda 7; Murray 6 (Samuel 57).

Subs not used: Munro, Sheaf, Brophy, Reid.

Star man

David Turnbull was a surprise opening day inclusion by Rodgers at the expense of Reo Hatate, and the Scotland midfielder produced the goods with two excellent finishes.