Celtic 4 Inverness Caledonian Thistle 2

Lustig 8, Griffiths 12, Armstrong 55, 68; Christie 71, Lopez 78

PARKHEAD got another glimpse of Scott Brown’s worth to Celtic yesterday and it came when he wasn’t even on the field. The Scotland captain returned to face Inverness Caledonian Thistle after missing the previous two matches due to a hamstring injury and was hugely instrumental as Celtic moved into a 4-0 lead and threatened to score several more.

It was surely, then, more than just a coincidence that it was only once Brown had been substituted to a standing ovation after 62 minutes that Inverness belatedly began to get any sort of foothold in the game. Led by the impressive and in-demand figure of Ryan Christie – initially left on the bench for tactical reasons according to his manager – Inverness got a goal back, then another, and started to finally show a bit of belief. The size of Celtic’s lead meant there was next to no chance of John Hughes’ side actually going on to take something from the game but the sloppiness of those last 20 minutes - characterised by two defensive errors from Dedryck Boyata - was enough to add an air of tension into a crowd that had been thoroughly enjoying their afternoon until that late wobble.

No team can be expected to play at full pelt for the entire 90 minutes of any game but, on the back of a sloppy midweek performance against Kilmarnock, it was not what the Celtic support wanted to see ahead of Wednesday night’s Champions League play-off tie at home to Malmo when the loss of even one away goal could prove significant.

In contrast to his scathing comments following the dropped points at Rugby Park, however, Deila was not overly critical of his players for again switching off late in the game. “I’m not going to focus on that, I’ll focus on the first 70 minutes,” he said. “[Losing the two goals] is a warning but the players know that. What we have to take with us the 70 minutes where we were very good.”

Brown was at the heart of almost everything Celtic did well in that time. It must have been hugely tempting for Deila to once again omit his captain who had been sidelined since the Champions League qualifier away to Qarabag in Baku. But, no, there he was front and centre, charging around with typical endeavour, taking possession from his own goalkeeper one minute and then appearing in the opposite penalty box moments later. It was almost as if he had been cloned. There were brief concerns at one point in the first half when he was dumped to the turf by Ross Draper – who was booked for the challenge – and needed treatment. Again he was barely down for long before haring back on to the field. By the time he departed, the only black mark against his name was a booking early in the second half.

That Celtic chose to take him off was a sign that they clearly thought the contest was finished, their thinking seemingly vindicated six minutes later when they scored their fourth goal. But then things started to unravel a touch. Christie took advantage of some poor defending from Boyata to drive a low shot past Craig Gordon after 71 minutes, and then set up fellow replacement Dani Lopez seven minutes later for a second Inverness goal. That sent a pulse of anxiety around the stadium but there would be no further scares as Celtic extended their unbeaten start to the season.

“We got a bit sloppy towards the end, perhaps lost our concentration,” admitted Stuart Armstorng, scorer of Celtic’s final two goals. “But it’s good it happened now and not on Wednesday night.”

For the first 70 minutes or so it had looked like being one of those perfunctory, one-sided beatings that Celtic dole out to hapless opponents from time to time. They had their first goal within eight minutes, the second four minutes later and another two early in the second half. It could scarcely have been more comfortable by that point, with little sign of the lapses of concentration that would arrive later.

The unlikely figure of Mikael Lustig had sent Celtic on their way. Inverness conceded a foul in a dangerous position and Stefan Johansen’s delivery to the back post was glanced in by the Swede. From such close range, Inverness could well have expected goalkeeper Owain Fon Williams to come out and collect.

Five minutes later and Inverness were complicit in allowing Celtic to move further in front. Nir Bitton got past Lewis Horner too easily and when his cross came in Leigh Griffiths was able to get above Danny Devine to head into the corner.

“Our tactics were to keep the backdoor shut but we really shot ourselves in the foot,” admitted Hughes. “Fundamentally we have to be better than that.”

His team barely threatened in the first half –Gordon was called upon to make his first save in the final minute – and they again found themselves on the back foot once play re-started. Armstrong, another who could be excused blame from any post-match finger-pointing in the Celtic camp, scored the first of his double after 55 minutes, curling in a shot after being picked out by Griffiths on the left. The next came 13 minutes later, Inverness again switching off and allowing the former Dundee United forward to meander into their box before finishing well. That should have been that but the closing stages will have given Deila something to ponder before Malmo come calling.

CELTIC (4-2-3-1): Gordon; Lustig (Janko 62), van Dijk, Boyaya, Izaguirre; Brown (Mulgrew 62), Bitton; Mackay-Steven, Johansen, Armstrong (McGregor 69); Griffiths

Subs not used: Bailly, Stokes, Rogic, McGregor, Forrest

Booked: Brown 47, Griffiths 72, Bitton 79, Mackay-Steven 85

INVERNESS (4-1-4-1): Williams; Raven, Draper, Devine, Tremarco (Wedderburn 67); Polworth (Christie 49); Horner, Tansey, Vigurs (Lopez 67), Williams; Mbuyi-Mutombo

Subs not used: Esson, Brown, Sutherland

Booked: Draper 15, Tremarco 26

Att: 42, 727

Ref: Craig Thomson

Man of the Match: Scott Brown