Malky Mackay took heart from Ross County’s response to their early numerical disadvantage against Celtic.
The Staggies were rocked by the dismissal of defender James Brown after 11 minutes, which left them a man down for the bulk of their encounter against the champions.
County defended valiantly, with the Hoops having two goals chalked off, however Brendan Rodgers’ side made the breakthrough deep into first-half stoppage time through David Turnbull’s strike.
The Dingwall outfit continued to put up a strong fight after the break, with goalkeeper Ross Laidlaw in inspired form.
Premiership leaders Celtic struck late to seal the points through quickfire goals from Luis Palma and James Forrest.
Mackay, who took issue with the time on the clock when Turnbull netted, was proud of the efforts of his players in the face of adversity.
He said: “We have got a mountain to climb when we go to ten men. Jim’s apologised but he didn’t see him. He came from his blindside so you can’t say too much to him.
“Coming towards half-time we’d weathered the storm and to lose the goal at six minutes and six seconds – which is surprising and interesting – it was a great strike and the only place he could have put it for the goalkeeper not to get to it.
“But we stuck at it, we were disciplined and organised.
“The runs were going to be very good and we matched most of them. We hoped to get a set-play to get us back in but I have to be proud of my team.
“To lose a man against Celtic when they’re playing well, it could have been six or seven and it has been in the past. You look to Dundee United losing nine against Celtic a couple of years ago – that can damage clubs and damage managers.
“To not get to that point and be organised, to keep it to what it was with two wonder strikes, that’ll see us OK going into the rest of the teams outside the Old Firm.”
The Staggies were back in home action, after racking up over 1,000 miles in trips to Dundee, Motherwell and Hibernian during a seven-day period the previous week.
Mackay made three changes from the side which started at Easter Road in midweek.
There was a return for Yan Dhanda who was instrumental in the Staggies’ fightback, while goalscorer Jordan White and George Harmon were also restored. Kyle Turner, Eamonn Brophy and Ben Purrington made way to the bench.
Celtic were denied the lead on five minutes when Liam Scales turned the ball home following Hyeongyu Oh’s knockdown, however it was ruled out for a foul on White in the build-up.
Red card an early blow
VAR was not so good to County minutes later when they were reduced to 10 men.
Brown was initially booked by referee David Munro for a challenge on Hyunjun Yang, however Munro was summoned to view the monitor before upgrading to a red card.
The dismissal forced Mackay to reshuffle, with Will Nightingale being brought on for White in attempt to shore up defensively.
County showed a strong response in the minutes that immediately followed, showing a threat from set-pieces, with Scott Allardice marginally overhitting a pass to the unmarked Ryan Leak inside the box.
The hosts had to weather pressure with Ross Laidlaw doing well to get down to tip Callum McGregor’s long-range strike around the post. From the resulting corner, a free header by Oh drifted off target.
Laidlaw had to make another fine save to deny Scales from another David Turnbull corner, with the Staggies frantically defending their goal.
County’s defence looked to have been breached just after the half-hour mark when Oh fired home from close-range. The goal was ruled out with Daizen Maeda adjudged to have been offside in the build up after he was played in over the top by Paulo Bernardo.
The Staggies were defending valiantly, with Laidlaw somehow managing to keep out Bernardo from point-blank range following a Turnbull delivery.
Visitors struck untimely blow
Celtic eventually found a way through with just seconds of the opening period remaining. The ball broke for Turnbull outside the box, with the midfielder finding space to angle a sublime low effort beyond Laidlaw into the bottom corner.
Mackay made two further changes to freshen his side up at the interval, with Purrington and Alex Samuel brought on to replace Harmon and Simon Murray.
Laidlaw was called into action again at the start of the second half, making a fine stop with his feet to deny Oh, while Bernardo saw a free-kick drift narrowly over.
The Staggies goalkeeper was in inspired form, making an excellent save to deny substitute Kyogo Furuhashi after he was picked out by Scales, before getting up to thwart Yang’s rebound.
Laidlaw hurt himself in the process but he recovered to make his best save of the match on 78 minutes, tipping Odin Holm’s bending effort over the bar.
He was left with no chance with 10 minutes remaining however, with substitute Palma curling a sublime strike into the far corner from similar distance.
Celtic rallied to add a third on 84 minutes, with Palma crossing for Forrest to nod home from close-range.
ROSS COUNTY (4-3-1-2): Laidlaw 9; Brown 3, Baldwin 7, Leak 7, Harmon 5 (Purrington 46); Randall 6, Loturi 6 (High 81), Allardice 7; Dhanda 6 (Turner 69); Murray 6 (Samuel 46), White 4 (Nightingale 12).
Subs not used: Munro, Sheaf, Brophy, Smith.
CELTIC (4-2-3-1): Hart 6; Ralston 6, Carter-Vickers 6, Scales 7, Taylor 6 (Forrest 80); Bernardo 7 (Holm 61), McGregor 6 (Iwata 80); Yang 8, Turnbull 7 (Palma 61), Maeda 6 (Furuhashi 61); Oh 8.
Subs not used: Bain, Johnston, Phillips, O’Riley.
Referee: David Munro
Star Man: Ross Laidlaw