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Inverness CT 1 Celtic 3: Seconds out

THE challenge that lies ahead for Celtic now is black and white.

Kris Commons cancels out Inverness's opener by shooting past Ryan Esson Photograph: SNS
Kris Commons cancels out Inverness's opener by shooting past Ryan Esson Photograph: SNS

The next couple of days will be spent refocusing for the task of attempting to upset Juventus in the Champions League last-16 at Parkhead on Tuesday, but preparations ahead of yesterday's win over Inverness Caledonian Thistle were also coloured by the looming visit of the Italians.

By the time Miku had slotted in a third goal, the visiting support had seen fit to partake in the "Poznan" celebration now de rigueur for European matches. If they feel bold enough to reprise it on Tuesday, it will be performed in honour of a Celtic team with a very different look from the one that played in the Highlands. Miku followed Kris Commons and Rami Gershon in sending efforts past Inverness goalkeeper Ryan Esson – after Nick Ross gave Terry Butcher's team an early lead – but it seems likely only Commons will keep his place against Juventus.

Manager Neil Lennon made 10 changes from his side's last league match and is expected to make just as many again ahead of the Juventus game. Fraser Forster returned in goal, having recovered from a neck injury that had kept him out since January 2, to find an unfamiliar three-man defence in front of him.

Israeli Gershon made his debut, having joined on loan from Standard Liege last month. He was joined at the back by Thomas Rogne and youngster Marcus Fraser. It seemed somewhat ironic that the teenager's only previous first-team outing had come in Europe, as a substitute in a Europa League win over Rennes last season.

Inverness were sharp enough early on and took the lead after nine minutes when Ross thumped the ball into the bottom corner after Forster had succeeded only in shooing a dipping Aaron Doran cross to the midfielder's feet

Given that Celtic have had a tendency to become a little weak at the knees whenever they have caught sight of a Champions League tie this season – a defeat to St Johnstone preceded the visit of Benfica in September, for example – that early setback seemed nothing new, and a pallid opening spell may well have been exacerbated by line-up diluted by unfamiliarity.

At the heart of it was Paddy McCourt. The midfielder made only his third start of the season for Celtic and looked typically dishevelled. His initial touches also seemed a little rough around the edges.

The Northern Irishman can look as if his mind is elsewhere at the best of times, but one wandering run forward drew a foul from Gary Warren midway through the first half. He then had another stab at the home side only to be mugged by Ross Draper.

Dylan McGeouch was a more enterprising threat to the home side on the right flank and it was one such foray which produced the equaliser after 20 minutes.

The 20-year-old fended off the attentions of Graeme Shinnie before releasing Tom Rogic in behind. The Australian, who had a promising debut, skipped past the Inverness full-back and pushed a low pass across the penalty area. Commons did the rest with an emphatic finish.

It would be a promising debut from Rogic, but the 20-year-old said modestly: "I had some great players around me out there."

Gershon leapt to head in a second goal for Celtic three minutes into the second half after meeting McGeouch's cross. But while Celtic are now 18 points ahead of Inverness in the SPL table that margin became blurred amid a flurry of activity in the second half. Billy McKay had a shot blocked on the line by substitute Adam Matthews and then cleared by Forster before the home side teased the Celtic goalkeeper further with two crosses which floated around his six-yard box.

"The final ball just wasn't good enough," said Inverness manager Terry Butcher.

Celtic scored their third goal straight from one of those flawed chances. Substitute Tony Watt carried the ball forward before ceding possession to Anthony Stokes, whose astute pass was side-footed into the net by Miku.

By the time the Celtic forward had sent a back-heel on to the base of a post, their fans were already pre-occupied with chants about reaching the Champions League final.

That brought a bit of colour back to their league match. But to stand any chance of getting to Wembley, they first have to contend with a team in black and white.

Turin shrouded

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