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Ross County fall to defeat despite brave display against Celtic at Parkhead

The Staggies fell behind through an early Alistair Johnston strike, but went on to cause the champions problems in Glasgow.

Celtic's Luis Palma after seeing his penalty saved by George Wickens. Image: SNS
Celtic's Luis Palma after seeing his penalty saved by George Wickens. Image: SNS

Ross County made the worst possible start at Parkhead – but left scratching their heads at how they came away empty-handed against champions Celtic.

A long afternoon looked in store for the Staggies when Alistair Johnston opened the scoring inside 60 seconds with a heavily-deflected effort.

County showed courage to take such an early blow in their stride, with their resilience in full evidence when goalkeeper George Wickens saved Luis Palma’s initial penalty along with the subsequent retake which was ordered due to encroachment.

The Staggies also showed attacking threat, with Will Nightingale coming closest with a header off the crossbar late in the first half, while opportunities fell to Jordan White and Josh Sims in stoppage time.

Ross County goalkeeper George Wickens. Image: SNS

A point would have been just reward for the Staggies’ display, but the Dingwall men emerged with plenty credit.

Adams is hopeful the nature of the performance can be a springboard for his second-bottom side, as they approach a crucial week of fixtures against fellow bottom-half sides Livingston, St Johnstone and Motherwell.

Adams said: “I thought to go down so early, the character was very good. We had four debutants and the way we played in and out of possession was very good.

“We hit the bar and got Joe Hart to make a good save towards the end. It’s not easy going down so early but the manner of the performance was excellent.

Ross County manager Derek Adams. Image: SNS

“The players who came in did really well and the goalkeeper making two penalty saves was vital for us.

“We’ve added competition for places and that’s really important going into the next half of the season.

“I think that is the case. When you take in new players to any club it’s about getting them started as quickly as possible.

“I’d have preferred to start them against a different team but to see the standard it was important to start them today and it could have gone one of two ways.

“They had a good understanding of the game and that’s good going forward.”

Adams named all six of his new signings in the starting line-up, as he sought a reaction from the previous weekend’s Scottish Cup exit at the hands of Championship side Partick Thistle.

That saw debuts for Cameron Borthwick-Jackson, Brandon Khela, Loick Ayina and Teddy Jenks. There were also first league outings for Wickens and Eli King.

Loick Ayina in action for Ross County. Image: Shutterstock.

County’s new-look side were given a rude awakening as Celtic took the lead after just 54 seconds. It came about in untidy fashion, with an initial effort by Liel Abada blocked into the path of Johnston, who followed up with a strike which took a wicked spin off the heel of Will Nightingale to leave Wickens completely wrongfooted.

Doubt was cast over the goal by a VAR check, but it was ultimately ruled there was no offside in the build up.

Celtic take the lead against Ross County through Alistair Johnston’s deflected shot. Image: SNS

The Staggies showed an excellent reaction to the early setback, with some neat play through the lines seeing Simon Murray unable to force a Victor Loturi delivery goalwards, while skipper Yan Dhanda overhit a ball intended to release Murray through on goal.

Celtic were far from at their fluent best despite having made the breakthrough, however County did have to stand tall to pressure, with Ayina making a vital interception to cut out Abada’s cross which was intended for Kyogo’s run.

Wickens was called into action on 19 minutes to make a fine save from Matt O’Riley, with Paulo Bernardo sending the follow-up over the bar.

The Staggies goalkeeper was to become even busier three minutes later, when Celtic were awarded a penalty after Murray pulled Callum McGregor to the ground.

Simon Murray clashes with Celtic’s Callum McGregor after the Hoops were awarded a penalty. Image: SNS

Wickens stood up to the test, as he read Palma’s spot-kick to perfection by diving low to his right. His work threatened to be undone when a VAR check ordered a retake due to encroachment, but remarkably Wickens saved again from Palma, who went the same way.

County had a glorious chance to level on 39 minutes when Dhanda’s corner was met by Nightingale at the far post, but the defender was denied his first Staggies goal by the crossbar.

It was a thoroughly impressive first half showing from the Staggies, particularly given their difficult starting point.

They faced pressure from the Hoops shortly after the restart, with Wickens having to make a fine reflex save to tip Cameron Carter-Vickers’ header over.

County did well to thwart pressure from the home side who were limited to precious few second half openings, with O’Riley sending a free-kick narrowly wide from just outside the box.

Ross County’s Teddy Jenks in action against Celtic. Image: PA

The Staggies continued to show bravery on the ball and their best opportunities arrived in stoppage time.

A marauding run by Josh Sims led to him setting up fellow substitute Jordan White, whose low effort was gathered by a fully-stretched Joe Hart at the second attempt.

An even better chance fell to Sims following White’s knock-down, with the winger scooping his effort over at the near post.

Player Ratings

CELTIC (4-3-3): Hart 6; Johnston 7, Carter-Vickers 6 (Nawrocki 64), Scales 6, Bernabei 6; O’Riley 7, McGregor 7, Bernardo 6 (Turnbull 89); Abada 6 (Johnston 76), Kyogo 6, Palma 6 (Kuhn 64).

Subs not used: Bain, Holm, Vata, Ralston, Welsh.

ROSS COUNTY (4-3-2-1): Wickens 8; Brown 7, Nightingale 7, Ayina 7, Borthwick-Jackson 7; Loturi 7, King 7 (Sims 80), Jenks; Khela 6 (Harmon 60), Dhanda 7; Murray 7 (White 68).

Subs not used: Laidlaw, Sheaf, Henderson, Brophy, Reid.

Referee: Euan Anderson
Attendance: 58,850
Star Man: George Wickens