The return to fitness and increasing match sharpness of Odsonne Edouard and Albian Ajeti, alongside Shane Duffy’s introduction to Scottish football, allowed Neil Lennon to today return to the much craved 3-5-2 formation which proved so successful for Celtic following last season’s winter break.
On performance alone Celtic were perhaps a little fortunate to go into half time two goals ahead, with Ross County creating a number of chances of their own and the often end-to-end pattern of the game providing a fairly open, even affair.
Whilst County couldn’t take advantage of their opportunities, Celtic’s quality in attack had, however, granted a comfortable cushion coming out for the second half, with Edouard and Ajeti grabbing a goal apiece during the opening period.
From there on, Lennon’s side grew in confidence and finished the match in ruthless fashion.
Debutant Duffy powered in the third from Callum McGregor’s corner, knocking bodies aside, his own teammates included, to ensure he would be first to the ball. A sight which will have delighted the entire Celtic support as much as the man from Derry himself.
Kristoffer Ajer then tapped in a fourth following Olivier Ntcham’s burst into the box and perfectly placed pass along the six yard line, before Patryk Klimala rounded off proceedings, finishing Moi Elyounoussi’s tidy slipped through ball to make it five.
To say today’s performance was a perfect display would probably be a little misleading. At times – frequently in the first half – there were shaky moments. Particularly in defence.
Today did, however, allow Neil Lennon and his side an opportunity to refamiliarise themselves with the 3-5-2 formation, and in particular, provided Duffy, Ajer and Christopher Jullien a chance to begin to develop as new defensive trio.
The uncertainty in the defensive third which was evident during the early stages of the game was unsurprising given the lack of time the players have had to train together since Duffy’s arrival, and they will undoubtedly build upon today once chemistry begins to form – as they did the longer the game went on.
When opportunities were presented to County though, Vasilis Barkas made a number of fine reaction saves to keep his clean sheet intact, as well as dealing impressively with a tricky backpass in improvised fashion, having slipped as the ball approached and the County striker closed him down.
Barkas has come under some scrutiny during the early stages of his Celtic career, having done little of note besides picking the ball out of the net so far – though through very little fault of his own – so although granting the opposition goalscoring opportunities might not exactly be celebrated, it was good to see the new goalkeeper finally get a chance to display some of his qualities.
A 5-0 victory away from home will always be a great result for any side, and with options available in attack and defence, this Celtic side looks like it is now beginning to take shape.
There will hopefully be at least one more addition, at left-(wing)back, and any first team departures will also need to be replaced, but, after a disappointing, stuttering start to the season, the return of the forwards, and return of the formation, has brought back a feelgood factor today and should provide Neil Lennon and his side a platform to build upon.
At their best, Lennon’s Celtic were relentless in the early part of this calendar year, hopefully today was the start of a return to the same vein.