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  • Dominant Celtic finish 2016 unbeaten at home in Scottish football

    Dominant Celtic finish 2016 unbeaten at home in Scottish football

    By: Martin Dalziel on 28 Dec, 2016 21:43

  • SPFL Premiership
    Celtic Park
    Wednesday December 12, 2016

    CELTIC…2
    (Sviatchenko 38, Armstrong 45+2)

    ROSS COUNTY…0

    TWO of quick-fire goals before half-time from Erik Sviatchenko and Stuart Armstrong saw Celtic finish 2016 undefeated at Paradise in domestic competition as they overcame Ross County 2-0.

    The Scottish champions kicked off the year at home with a 1-0 win against Partick Thistle in January and brought their 2016 fixtures at Celtic Park to a close with a convincing win over the Highlanders to go 16 points clear at the top of the table after Rangers drew with St Johnstone at McDiarmid Park.

    The victory also marked Celtic’s 19th game unbeaten in the league this season and their 14th win on the bounce in the Premiership.

    Sviatchenko’s 35-yard drive, closely followed by Armstrong’s fine solo effort, established Celtic’s dominance in the first-half and they went on to control possession with a passing masterclass in the second 45 minutes. No more goals came in the second-half, despite the best efforts of the Bhoys, but the clinical first-half strikes were enough to send Celtic to Ibrox on Saturday undefeated ahead of their final game of the year.

    Brendan Rodgers made three changes for the clash with Ross County, with James Forrest lively on his return to the starting XI in place of Patrick Roberts on the right, while Ryan Christie did well to get himself on the ball in the central attacking role behind Leigh Griffiths, coming in for the suspended Callum McGregor. Jozo Simunovic completed the changes, coming in for Cristian Gamboa.

    Celtic eventually established their authority in possession but the visitors underlined their threat on the break with a wasted chance from Liam Boyce after an industrious run from Christie was thwarted outside County territory midway through the first-half.

    The Bhoys then spurned their best chance to that point when a brave tackle from Forrest worked the ball out to Emilio Izaguirre on the left flank, but Scott Sinclair could only direct his header from the Honduran’s cross wide of Scott Fox’s goal.

    The pressure eventually paid off, though, just before half-time and it came from an unlikely source – a 35-yard strike from Erik Sviatchenko. The Danish defender received the ball in midfield and took a touch to avoid the attentions of Alex Schalk, striding forward past the centre-circle. With no-one in front of him, he took aim and guided a low shot past Fox’s outstretched right hand to give Celtic a deserved 1-0 lead.

    Wave after wave of Hoops attack then flooded the County half and the reward for Celtic’s perseverance came swiftly through another piece of individual excellence, this time from Stuart Armstrong.

    The midfielder gathered the ball just outside the box and feinted to shoot with his left, then his right, before finally unleashing a low shot with his left foot into the far corner, putting the champions comfortably in charge at the break.

    The Hoops went right back on the hunt for more goals at the start of the second-half but they had their momentum stunted by a dangerously late tackle on Forrest from Chow, who caught the winger flush on the ankle with a lunging tackle from behind.

    The Scotland internationalist soon dusted himself off, however, and continued to influence play, getting involved in some nice interplay on the edge of the County box with Scott Sinclair before Griffiths fired a header over from Scott Brown’s deep cross.

    Brendan Rodgers shuffled his pack by replacing the impressive Christie and Griffiths with Liam Henderson and Moussa Dembele with just over 20 minutes left, before Forrest was also withdrawn for Roberts after the winger found himself on the receiving end of another strong tackle in midfield.

    The Bhoys’ stranglehold on the ball continued as the game entered the final stages with their relentless passing and movement dragging the visitors out of position and into needless tackles, with Martin Woods booked for one such incident with Scott Brown just outside the Celtic box.

    The Staggies midfielder could have then saw red with 10 minutes to go when he went in late on the Celtic skipper again but referee Nick Walsh didn’t produce a second yellow – one of several decisions which irked the home crowd throughout the game.

    Woods’ reprieve almost proved costly for Celtic minutes later when he dug out the ball from Brown’s feet and curled a long-range shot at goal but Craig Gordon tipped the swerving effort round the post at full stretch.

    The visitors then ended the game like they started but there was no reward for their late flurry, despite Gordon being called into action to save on his line to palm away Andrew Davies’ header from Woods’ corner.

    The save preserved Celtic’s 2-0 lead and the final whistle propelled the champions to their 14th league win on the bounce and a 16-point lead over second-placed Rangers with a game in hand ahead of Saturday’s Glasgow derby at Ibrox, which will round off the first-half of the season before the winter break.

    CELTIC (4-1-2-3) Gordon; Lustig, Simunovic, Sviatchenko, Izaguirre; Brown; Christie (Henderson 62), Armstrong; Forrest (Roberts 70), Griffiths (Dembele 66), Sinclair.
    Not used: De Vries, Toure, Bitton, Gamboa

    ROSS COUNTY (4-5-1) : Fox; Fraser, Quinn, Davies, McEveley; Curran, Routis (McShane 66), Chow, Woods, Boyce (Morrison 76); Schalk (Tumilty 62).~
    Not used: McCarey, Dow, Dingwall, McLaughlin

    Website man of the match: Scott Brown

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