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  • Griffiths reaches 30 goals for the season as Celtic cruise past County

    Griffiths reaches 30 goals for the season as Celtic cruise past County

    By: Mark Henderson on 13 Feb, 2016 16:55

  • Scottish Premiership
    Celtic Park, Glasgow
    Saturday, February 13, 2016

    (Griffiths 45, Boyata 57)


    LEIGH Griffiths bagged his 30th goal of the season as Celtic deservedly dispatched Ross County in Paradise to move three points clear at the top of the table.

    The Hoops hit-man lashed home a loose ball on the stroke of half-time to give Ronny Deila’s side the lead and become the quickest Celtic player to reach the 30-goal milestone in a season since Henrik Larsson.

    And once Dedryck Boyata doubled the advantaged early in the second half with a determined header from Stuart Armstrong’s cross, the champions never looked in danger of surrendering the spoils.

    Nir Bitton returned to the Celtic starting XI as Ronny Deila made five changes from the team that lined up against East Kilbride in the Scottish Cup fifth round victory.

    Craig Gordon, Mikael Lustig, Stefan Johansen and Stuart Armstrong were also restored to the starting XI. Logan Bailly, Efe Ambrose, Charlie Mulgrew, James Forrest and Colin Kazim-Richards dropped to the bench.

    Celtic were quick out the blocks, driven on by an early purposeful burst from Bitton, and Griffiths had an angled shot blocked inside the opening two minutes by Richard Foster after Kieran Tierney had crossed from the left.  

    Ronny Deila’s side then forced a series of corners, with Lustig and Erik Sviatchenko, making his home bow, threatening to profit.

    Johansen was back in the No.10 role that he operated in for most of last season and he was finding plenty of dangerous positions in front of the County defence.

    In the ninth minute, he burst towards the box before releasing Mackay-Steven with a deft pass, and the winger’s shot brought out a low save from Scott Fox, the loose ball trickling wide of the post.

    Former Celt Jackson Irvine had the visitors’ first attempt on goal, lashing wide from Foster’s cutback but that was the exception to the rule as Celtic resumed their offensive.

    The Hoops were racking up the corner count and the away side looked uncomfortable as they sought to repel the set-pieces. After a melee in the six-yard box from Stuart Armstrong’s hanging delivery, Griffiths saw an acrobatic effort blocked on the line.

    Armstrong also saw a shot blocked from Lustig’s cross as the Hoops continued to probe for the opening goal. However, they lacked their earlier fluency and the game became more scrappy, with play punctuated by fouls as Chris Robertson and Michael Gardyne entered the book.

    In the 35th minute, though, the hosts suddenly sprang into life with an incisive passing move that unlocked the Highlanders. Johansen released Griffiths through the middle. The striker sped away from his markers and rounded Fox but his final shot cannoned off the post.  

    Moments later, the Bhoys fashioned another promising position on the edge of the box but Johansen saw his effort blocked by Robertson.

    But just as the visitors looked as though they would survive until half-time, who else but Griffiths found a way through. Tierney did well down the left to dig out a cross into the box. Johansen rose to challenge for it in the middle and when the loose ball dropped for Griffiths, he hammered a first-time shot into the far corner for his 30th goal of a sensational season.

    Celtic came close to doubling their advantage five minutes after the interval as Johansen sent Mackay-Steven scampering clear, but the former Dundee United player couldn’t keep his right-footed shot down.

    Mackay-Steven then turned provider as the Hoops broke at speed. Running all the way from his own box to the edge of the County area, he fed Johansen on the right. The Norwegian’s intended pass for Griffiths was blocked back into his path. He elected to take aim himself but failed to find the target.

    The home support didn’t have long to wait, however, to celebrate a second goal. Armstrong went down the outside and his swirling cross looked to be out of Boyata’s reach, but the big defender did brilliantly to arch his neck and divert a header inside the post, despite being held by Paul Quinn.  

    That was another confidence-booster for the Bhoys and they were now moving the ball around with pace and precision as Brown tried his luck from distance, while Sviatchenko was inches away from scoring on his home debut from Armstrong’s corner.   

    Good footwork from Griffiths in the 70th minute gave the Scotland internationalist another sight of goal but this time he curled over.  

    Jim McIntyre’s side hadn’t been able to a meaningful response since Celtic had broken the deadlock, though a rare moment of slackness in the Celtic defence allowed Gardyne to cross from the byline, but Bitton was on hand in the middle to avert the danger.

    Griffiths and substitute Tom Rogic shot over for the Hoops and, although Gordon had to make an outstanding save from Johnathan Franks drive from distance, the champions were never seriously troubled as comfortably saw out the closing stages to clinch the three points.   

    CELTIC (4-2-3-1) Gordon; Lustig, Boyata, Sviatchenko, Tierney; Brown, Bitton; Mackay-Steven, Johansen (Rogic 77), Armstrong (Forrest 84); Griffiths (Kazim-Richards 79)
    Not Used: Bailly, Izaguirre, Mulgrew, McGregor

    ROSS COUNTY (4-4-1-1) Fox; Fraser (Reckford 82), Quinn (Murdoch 65) Robertson, Foster; Franks, McShane, Woods, Gardyne; Irvine; Boyce (Schalk 61)
    Not Used: Woods, Graham, De Vita, Goodwillie

    Website Man of the Match: Leigh Griffiths


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