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Celtic's Griffiths set to win his fitness bid

Celtic 2-0 Ross County

By Ronnie Esplin

Published 03/08/2015

Final blow: Stefan Johansen celebrates after hitting Celtic's second goal against Ross County
Final blow: Stefan Johansen celebrates after hitting Celtic's second goal against Ross County
Celtic manager Ronny Deila

Celtic began the defence of their Ladbrokes Premiership title with a 2-0 home win over Ross County on Saturday, but not without cost or controversy.

Lisbon Lion John Clark unfurled the 2014-15 championship flag before kick-off - signifying the club's fourth title victory in succession - and Leigh Griffiths started the journey to number five when he opened the scoring from the penalty spot after only four minutes.

However, the striker hobbled off after 19 minutes with an injury which could leave him struggling to be at full fitness for the second leg of the Hoops' Champions League third-round qualifier against Qarabag in Azerbaijan on Wednesday night.

Midfielder Stefan Johansen doubled Celtic's lead in the 35th minute with a drive after referee Willie Collum had angered the visitors by only showing Parkhead keeper Craig Gordon a yellow card for a last-man challenge outside the box on former Bhoy Jackson Irvine.

Gordon went on to make a couple of good saves as the Dingwall men tried to battle back into the game, but Celtic were worth their 2-0 win, although they might have to defend their slender 1-0 first-leg victory over Qarabag without the help of Griffiths, their top scorer last season.

Bhoys boss Ronny Deila admitted the Gordon decision was a difficult one.

He said: "It was a tough decision. I need to see it again but I can understand Ross County's thinking.

"It is hard for the ref. I don't know if it was right or wrong."

Deila was more confident over the Griffiths injury, however.

"I don't think it is serious," the Norwegian said. "I think he will be back for Wednesday.

"Nothing has been pulled - it is just a knock."

With Nadir Ciftci and Emilio Izaguirre suspended, Griffiths started in the main striker's role while 18-year-old Kieran Tierney came in at left-back.

County boss Jim McIntyre fielded seven of his summer signings, including skipper Andrew Davies, who clumsily conceded a penalty with a challenge on Griffiths as the former Hibernian forward tried to reach a Stuart Armstrong pass.

Griffiths slammed the spot-kick under Scott Fox, another Staggies new boy, but he could not shake off the knock apparently picked up winning the penalty and was replaced by Stefan Scepovic.

Another talking point came in the 22nd minute when County playmaker Ian McShane sent Irvine clean through on goal.

The midfielder, signed permanently in the summer after a loan period at the Dingwall club, was tripped up by Scottish international Gordon just outside the 18-yard box.

The Celtic fans breathed a sigh of relief when referee Collum only produced a yellow card, with furious County players claiming it had been an obvious goalscoring opportunity.

Gordon saved the resultant free-kick from McShane down at his right-hand post and the visitors came close again on the half-hour mark when Craig Curran drove just wide from the edge of the box.

However, when Johansen took a pass from Gary Mackay-Steven 12 yards before rifling past Fox, the points looked safe.

County came out after the interval, though, showing some enterprise and Gordon made good blocks from Curran and substitute Raffaele De Vita.

But Celtic threatened too.

In the 69th minute Fox had to concede a corner with a tremendous finger-tip save from a long-range thunderbolt from Kris Commons, on for Johansen.

As the home side stepped up the pressure again, the former Derby midfielder drove past the far post and was denied again by Fox before the game petered out to what was perhaps an inevitable conclusion.

Belfast Telegraph

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