THE couple of careless late goals conceded by Celtic in the Highlands made no difference to the outcome or to manager Neil Lennon's transfer plans. It has been weeks, months even, since he recognised the need for a commanding centre-half and he believes he has identified one in Willy Boly of Auxerre.
Discussions have been held with the 21-year-old Frenchman's club about the possibility of Boly coming on a season-long loan and his wage demands would not be prohibitive. The deal is likely to be advanced if – as seems likely – Celtic seal a place in the Champions League group stage by beating Helsingborgs on Wednesday night.
Of the eight senior players unavailable to Lennon on Saturday, Thomas Rogne was the only absent defender. Charlie Mulgrew and Kelvin Wilson were the central partnership which surrendered the goals and, while those were by no means the story of a match dominated by the champions, it blemished their otherwise satisfying day.
A couple of goals being slashed off a Celtic lead in four minutes? That does not bear thinking about around Parkhead given that they hold only a 2-0 lead over Helsingborgs. The job does look to have been done, but Celtic have a habit of conceding early goals in Europe and to do so against the Swedes would spread anxiety like a contagion. Boly cannot help with this one, but some combination of Mulgrew, Wilson, Rogne and Victor Wanyama will have to protect Fraser Forster for 90 minutes, rather than the 81 they managed before Ross Draper claimed his couple for Inverness.
Thoughts of the Champions League did not inhibit Celtic from delivering their brightest league performance of the season, but it does not stray from their minds for long.
"Wednesday is massive, the biggest game of my career," said Gary Hooper. "We know that a clean sheet means we're through. The job is not done. We had a great win in Sweden but we have to keep the ball out of our net, play as we usually do at home, counter-attack as we always do, and do the job. It sounds easy when you say it like that, but we have to be focused and do it.
"I came here because of playing in Old Firm games – that's gone now – and playing in the Champions League. Now that takes on a priority."
Celtic bridle at any suggestion of potential complacency towards Helsingborgs. The same accusation had been levelled at them after their flat league performances against Aberdeen and Ross County but they were crisp and clinical in the Highlands, controlling the poor hosts. After 80 minutes it was 4-0 – a more accurate reflection of play than the eventual scoreline.
It had been eight years since Celtic last scored more than twice in a game in Inverness, and far more celebrated players in green and white have struggled awfully at the Caledonian Stadium over the years. On Saturday the reserves were sent out and dealt with the job admirably.
Inverness manager Terry Butcher was angered by any suggestion that Celtic were "weakened" – meaning it as a compliment to the players Lennon could still select – but the fact remained that they won without Scott Brown, Joe Ledley, Biram Kayal, Anthony Stokes, Georgios Samaras, Kris Commons, Daryl Murphy and Rogne. Brown, Samaras, Commons and Rogne may return for the midweek game.
Tony Watt is unlikely to start that one but his signature was all over the weekend victory. He had scored twice on his Celtic debut as a substitute against Motherwell in April and pulled off something similar with another double on his first start.
Hooper's performance, intelligent and strong, helped him along but the 18-year-old had some virtuoso moments.
"Defenders don't know what to do: he's strong and quick and he scores goals," said Hooper. "He has a great future. I tried to help Tony as best I could because he's still learning.
"He needs to learn to keep his head up when on the ball, but that will come. I'm really just nit-picking with that one. This is a chance for him with 'Stokesey' [Anthony Stokes] being out for a few weeks. He can play up top and he showed he's a strong boy. Defenders just seem to bounce off him and he likes spinning in behind, and that's what we need."
On this evidence Inverness face a bleak struggle for survival. The swathes of empty seats in the home stands spoke volumes about how many Invernesians feel about their team just now.
Inverness have conceded nine goals in only four league games. Each of Celtic's four – Wanyama's early header, Watt's first strike, Mulgrew's goal from a well-executed move, and Watt's back-post finish to make it 4-0 after 64 minutes – should have been better defended.
The same applied at the other end to Draper's late contribution. But Butcher has no money left for reinforcements, while Celtic could have £21m coming into the club between Ki Sung-Yueng's transfer fee and £15m from the Champions League. Some of it may well be spent on Boly.
4' 0-1 A routine opener for Celtic as Victor Wanyama rises unchallenged to power home Adam Matthews' corner.
25' 0-2 Tony Watt spins away from Gary Warren before finishing coolly.
48' 0-3 Paddy McCourt plays a free kick low and square to Charlie Mulgrew, who drives a shot into the corner of the goal.
64' 0-4 Matthews fails to convert Emilio Izaguirre's cross at the back post, but Watt does.
82' 1-4 Andrew Shinnie stabs a pass through to Ross Draper and he jabs a finish into the corner of the Celtic goal.
86' 2-4 Draper again, this time scoring at the second attempt after a Fraser Forster save.