Shane Duffy delivered a delightful debut goal as Celtic routed Ross County 5-0 in the Scottish Premiership clash at the Global Energy stadium. In front of 300 socially distanced home fans allowed in as a test event for supporters returning to football, Odsonne Édouard scored from the spot in the fourth minute to put the champions on their way.
Albian Ajeti, making his first start for the visitors, added a second soon afterwards and though County had created more than their fair share of openings in the first half they were left with no chance just before the hour mark when Duffy, the loan signing from Brighton, powered a header in from a corner.
Kristoffer Ajer tapped in a fourth before the substitute Patryk Klimala added a fifth to leave Neil Lennon’s side six points behind Rangers, the leaders, with two games in hand.
Lennon said: “Shane had the two games for Ireland which will have done him the world of good. He hadn’t played that much football. Same with Ajeti, he needed a run-out and today he’s produced a great striker’s goal. Shane, we all know what the club means to him, but to score on his debut was just great. I think after the goal he just looked peerless, just outstanding.”
Lennon opted for a back three of Duffy, Ajer and Christopher Jullien but it was the home defence who were tested – and found wanting – early on. The small band of Staggies fans sat in silence when Andrew Dallas pointed to the spot after Ajeti tumbled to the ground inside the penalty area after what looked like a tug by the defender Jordan Tillson, back in the side with Josh Reid and Harry Paton. Édouard – back from a thigh injury – rolled the spot-kick into the corner of the net.
County’s response was positive. Their captain, Iain Vigurs, had a couple of dangerous free-kicks from distance, the first saved by Vasilis Barkas, the second rebounding off a post, perhaps with the Celtic goalkeeper getting a touch. The home defender Connor Randall then came close with a drive that went narrowly wide.
But then Celtic doubled their lead. The Staggies defence failed to clear Callum McGregor’s free-kick from wide on the left and Ajeti pounced to fire past Ross Laidlaw from eight yards for his third Celtic goal since signing from West Ham.
Still, the home side kept finding gaps. Billy Mckay’s whipped-in cross from the left on the half-hour was met at the back post by Ross Stewart and his header back across goal looked in until Barkas stretched to claw the ball away.
County, who had replaced the injured Mckay with Oli Shaw in the first half, had yet another chance to score soon after the break when McGregor’s effort from distance was saved. Stewart then found himself with time and space inside the box but his shot was just too close to Barkas.
However, the most basic of goals in the 59th minute – a powerful Duffy header from a McGregor corner – in effect sealed the points for Celtic. Five minutes later Ajer added a fourth with a tap-in from an Olivier Ntcham pass and it became a stroll.
Klimala, on for Ajeti, should have made it five but his shot was blocked on the line by Alex Iacovitti, but the Polish striker got his goal in the 76th minute when he smashed the ball in after being set up by his fellow substitute Mohamed Elyounoussi.
Before that Dallas ignored a handball penalty claim for County after Barkas had made another good save amid a goalmouth melee.
There were late substitutions and one of the new arrivals, David Turnbull, recently signed from Motherwell, replaced Scott Brown to make his Celtic debut before Shaw hammered a free-kick off a Celtic post, summing up County’s day.