Ross County subjected them to quite a trial in Dingwall yesterday and there was palpable relief for the champions when they emerged from the Highlands unbeaten and without further additions to an already lengthy injury list.
Scott Brown, Gary Hooper, James Forrest and Paddy McCourt will train today and all should be available for Tuesday's Champions League tie in Helsingborg. All that was wounded here was Celtic's pride. Only 15 seconds of stoppage time remained when Kris Commons scored an equaliser for them after Richard Brittain's sumptuous free-kick threatened to give County their first top-flight win.
County is such an impressive and progressive club, so well run at every level, that it is easy to forget the extreme mismatch of resources which exists when they take on an opponent of Celtic's scale. Many neutrals would have been pleased if their resistance had held for a little longer to deliver a memorable win. All the same, natural sympathy for the underdogs should not cloud how the game actually unfolded. County manager Derek Adams was baffled and upset that referee Craig Thomson played three minutes of stoppage time, in which Commons got his goal, but it would do Celtic a disservice not to acknowledge that they created so many chances that defeat would have been unjust. It was a cracking game.
Helsingborgs IF are stronger than County, of course, but the Swedes will do well to match the attitude, commitment and organisation which confronted Celtic yesterday. Neil Lennon also saw self-inflicted problems. "Some of them were going through the motions," he said. "We have to be more professional than that. I didn't think we were bad, some of the passing was decent, but the final ball at times lacked a bit of quality and there was a lack of urgency at times as well.
"We had to change the shape of the team because of the personnel we had and at the end we threw the kids on [young substitutes Tony Watt and Paul Slane]. We got what we deserved, at least a point."
In Celtic's two opening league games they have needed a late goal to beat Aberdeen and an even later one to avoid defeat to County. Promoted clubs always run out of steam eventually and a time will come when County will struggle, but for now they are a hugely refreshing addition to the SPL. After three games they are still unbeaten and it's almost an afterthought to consider that they have not suffered defeat in any league fixture for 37 games.
Brittain's goal was sublime. Charlie Mulgrew conceded a foul on Marc Corcoran just outside the penalty area. The angle demanded a right-foot shot and Brittain struck it hard and accurately to the far top corner past Fraser Forster. Ross County had beaten Celtic on a bigger stage than this, in the 2010 Scottish Cup semi-final, but what a moment it was for the club to be leading them again on their own patch. Brittain almost scored again when he smacked Forster's crossbar with a ferocious shot.
Celtic felt the absence of Hooper and Anthony Stokes. When they began to create chances the finishing was ordinary. Michael Fraser's saves kept them out and Victor Wanyama and Mulgrew both hit the woodwork. Celtic thought they were due a penalty a couple of minutes after falling behind, when Brittain knocked Georgios Samaras on to his backside. It should have been given but Thomson wrongly thought the challenge was fair.
Even with five across the middle – Lennon felt that it was the only formation he could use given the players he had available – Celtic couldn't secure supremacy in that area. Iain Vigurs, Brittain and Stuart Kettlewell were excellent in the engine room for County.
Brown and Ki Sung-Yueng were also absent for the visitors and Watt, Slane, James Keatings, Callum McGregor and Joe Chalmers amounted to a handful of inexperienced substitutes. Watt made his presence felt when he came on and it was his shot which Fraser spilled at the feet of Commons, for the equaliser.
"There were three minutes of injury time and I don't know where that came from," said an unsmiling Adams later. "We didn't make any substitutions and there weren't any injuries in the second half."
Feeling deflated after a draw with Celtic said it all about how far his club has come.
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