Gary Hooper eased any nerves with his early goal in Dingwall. Picture: SNS
The bitter disappointment of the 4-2 defeat to Rangers at Ibrox, and the concern at the woeful second half showing, will linger for some time.
Indeed, only reclaiming the lead in the Clydesdale Bank Premier League and achieving victory in the next Glasgow derby at Parkhead at the end of December will placate some Celtic supporters.
Nevertheless, the 2-0 triumph over the Irn-Bru First Division club in the third round of the Scottish Communities Cup at Victoria Park in midweek was hugely important for Celtic’s smarting players.
Gary Hooper, who scored his side’s first early on to take his tally for the season to five, felt the professional performance in an awkward away tie was hugely positive after the trauma of the weekend.
He was especially pleased for Neil Lennon as the manager’s position had come under increased scrutiny after a disappointing run of just two wins in seven games.
The Englishman is now looking to make amends for another painful reverse -- the defeat to Inverness Caledonian Thistle last season which ultimately cost Celtic the title -- this weekend. “It was tough trying to get over Sunday,” the striker admitted. “The only way we could put it out of our minds was by winning again.
“We have made a start on that. We passed the ball really well, especially in the second-half. We kept the ball well and made sure they didn’t get any chances to get back into the game. All they had was a couple of half chances and we defended very solidly throughout. We have come away with a clean sheet and that is very pleasing.
“We felt we owed the manager as well as the fans. We have to make it up to the manager by winning games. We started that at Victoria Park with a clean sheet and scoring two goals. We have a big league game against Inverness on Saturday and then another two fixtures before the international break. We have to win them all if we can. It is all about recovery.
“We do feel we need to put a run together. We’ve three more coming up in a short time [against Inverness and Udinese at home and Hearts away] and we’d love another three wins. Caley Thistle hurt us badly last May and we have to put pressure on them high up the pitch on Saturday and force the issue. We are at home and hopefully we can score a few goals and get the fans on our side again.”
Despite only having spent a season at Celtic, Hooper has been in this position -- trailing Rangers after defeat in the first Old Firm game of the season -- before. The £2m signing from Scunthorpe United scored on his debut against his side’s city rivals at Parkhead last season. A second-half collapse, though, resulted in Lennon’s team slumping to a 3-1 loss.
The 23-year-old remains optimistic his team can recover, as they did last season when they won three and drew two of the seven meetings with their old adversaries, in the coming weeks. “We knew Rangers were going to come at us in that second half, but we did not react in the right way,” he reflected. “I cannot put my finger on why. Last season, we lost the first derby and we’ve done it again this time. We kicked on from it last season and we have to do that again.”
Hooper renewed his partnership with Anthony Stokes in Dingwall. As ever, he thrived alongside his fellow predator but rarely gets the opportunity in the games that really matter. Stokes, though, has vowed to remain patient and wait for his chance.
“I missed out on Sunday but I’m used to it from last season,” he said. “I’m happy enough; I’ve started this season reasonably well and I’ve scored a few goals. But I want to get in the team for these big games. The gaffer hasn’t said what I need to do, he just wants me to keep working at my game.
“I was hoping I’d play on Sunday but you have to take it on the chin. I have no doubt if I play against them I have the ability to do well. I have to put the gaffer in a position where he can’t leave me out of the team.”