Celtic go 12 points clear with win over Ross County
Celtic strode 12 points clear of Rangers at the top of the Premiership with a commanding 3-0 win over 10-man basement side Ross County at Parkhead.
French striker Moussa Dembele opened the scoring from the spot in the 25th minute before Staggies skipper Andrew Davies was handed a straight red card by referee Steven McLean six minutes before half-time for a senseless foul on his Hoops counterpart Scott Brown.
County goalkeeper Aaron McCarey limped off injured just before the break to be replaced by Scott Fox, who was beaten by midfielders Stuart Armstrong and Tom Rogic in a second half which was as one-sided as the first.
Brendan Rodgers’ men march on relentlessly towards their seventh successive title and possibly their second consecutive domestic treble – their Ibrox rivals drew 2-2 at Motherwell earlier in the day – while County, with one win since November 4, remain in serious trouble.
Stuart Kettlewell and Steven Ferguson, who were jointly put in charge of the Dingwall club until the end of the season following the departure of Owen Coyle at the start of the month, should be asking Davies what he thought he was doing to help their cause.
It had all the signs of a long afternoon for the Highlanders when Armstrong, back in the team along with right-back Mikael Lustig and winger Scott Sinclair, fizzed a shot from the edge of the box just over the crossbar in the third minute.
However, County broke moments later and attacker Billy McKay’s drive from the edge of the Hoops penalty area was well saved by Celtic keeper Scott Bain.
The champions-elect quickly reasserted themselves and Dembele, Armstrong, twice, and Sinclair all missed the target with efforts.
There were no complaints from the visitors when referee McLean pointed to the spot after defender Jason Naismith fouled Sinclair and 21-year-old Dembele sent McCarey the wrong way with his penalty for his 14th goal of the season.
A difficult enough task became impossible when Davies raced in needlessly to challenge Brown after he had been brought to the ground by the backtracking McKay, sparking some anger among the Celtic players before the Ross County man was sent packing.
The afternoon deteriorated further for the visitors when McCarey had to be replaced by Fox.
Parkhead defender Jack Hendry, who made his Scotland debut in midweek, took over from Dedryck Boyata for the start of the second half and he had to wait only three minutes for Celtic to double their lead.
The tireless Armstrong, Celtic’s best performer, rifled in a left-footed drive from 16 yards after combining with winger James Forrest, who then set up Rogic on the hour mark with a clever pass to make it 3-0 with a classy finish.
It was all about damage limitation for the ragged visitors, who had to contend with the introduction of winger Patrick Roberts for Forrest and striker Leigh Griffiths, back from a calf injury which had kept him out since January, for Dembele.
However, the home side eased up in the final moments with County mounting several optimistic attacks, knowing the points were gone.