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Sweet 16 for Rodgers as Celtic extend their lead at top

Celtic 2 Ross County 0

By Ronnie Esplin

Brendan Rodgers insists the pressure will be on Rangers when he takes his Celtic side to Ibrox on Hogmanay. The Hoops extended their lead over the Light Blues at the top of the Ladbrokes Premiership to 16 points and a game in hand with a 2-0 home win over Ross County, with goals from defender Erik Sviatchenko and midfielder Stuart Armstrong.

Celtic have won 14 league games in a row and are unbeaten in 23 domestic games this season, as well as unbeaten in 22 domestic home games in 2016.

Rodgers believes those statistics will allow the champions to be more relaxed than normal in an Old Firm game, albeit he stressed his desire to win.

The Northern Irishman said: "It will be a battle. There is no doubt about that. It will be a tough game.

"There is huge pressure on them to get the result at home. For us, we have played in big games under pressure this season and dealt well with it, stayed calm and got the result.

"We know it will be tough and it's a game we are looking forward to.

"It finishes off a remarkable first half of the season for us. And we aim to go there and win.

"For us, it doesn't matter what the result is on Saturday.

"We have had a fantastic start to the season and irrespective of the result, we will be happy with our work.

"We will go away, rest and recover and come back even better for the second half of the season.

"But we are greedy.

"We want to win every game and that's the attitude at the weekend."

Rodgers paid tribute to his predecessor Ronny Deila for his work at the end of last season, before the former Liverpool boss took over in the summer.

He said: "The stats are good. It's a great credit to Ronny and the team before.

"They were here for the first six months of the year and can be proud of their work.

"But the players have taken the opportunity to be better and improve since I came in here.

"They amaze me in their mentality and are very much worthy of being 16 points clear at the top.

"It's a remarkable feat of hard work, concentration, focus and quality.

"They are demonstrating that in every game and every week."

County boss Jim McIntyre rued a couple of missed chances as well as keeper Scott Fox's efforts in trying to stop Sviatchenko's long-distance drive.

He said: "We were compact and disciplined and had two great chances on the counter - we have got to stick one away.

"Equally, it was disappointing to lose the goals the way we did.

"The first goal, Foxy has put his hand up - he has to save it.

"He has been fantastic for us, he has saved us on several occasions this season, so I am not going to be too critical."

While the Staggies put in a decent first-half showing, Hoops centre-back Sviatchenko fired the home side ahead from distance in the 38th minute before midfielder Stuart Armstrong added a second in first-half added time.

As usual, Rodgers made changes. Defender Jozo Simunovic and midfielders James Forrest and Ryan Christie came into the Celtic line-up which was shorn of Callum McGregor, suspended after being sent off against Hamilton in the last match, with Cristian Gamboa and Patrick Roberts dropping to the bench.

Midfielder Martin Woods and forward Alex Schalk returned for County who were feisty in the opening exchanges.

In the 23rd minute a well worked counter-attack saw Woods break clear after taking a clever pass from Schalk and slip in Liam Boyce but with only Parkhead goalkeeper Craig Gordon to beat the Northern Irishman fired low past the far post.

Three minutes later, however, Celtic passed up on an even better chance when winger Scott Sinclair headed a terrific cross from left-back Emilio Izaguirre past the post from right in front of goal.

The opening goal came out of the blue and from an unlikely source.

There seemed no imminent danger when Sviatchenko moved forward with the ball at his feet but the Denmark defender caught everyone by surprise, including County keeper Scott Fox, when he drilled a shot from 35 yards into the bottom corner of the net for his first goal of the season.

County could have felt peeved to be going in at the interval one goal behind but in the second added minute Armstrong took a pass from right-back Mikael Lustig and turned County's Tim Chow at least twice before firing a left-footed shot from 16 yards past Fox.

In the 75th minute, with the Hoops continuing their dominance, a penalty claim when County defender Marcus Fraser took Sinclair to the ground at the byline inside the penalty area went unheeded by referee Nick Walsh.

The final stages saw Gordon make a fine save from a Woods drive and an Andrew Davies header, while Fox saved a Dembele drive.

Celtic: Gordon, Lustig, Sviatchenko, Simunovic, Izaguirre, Brown, Christie (Henderson 63), Armstrong, Forrest (Roberts 71), Sinclair, Griffiths (Dembele 66).

Goals: Sviatchenko 38, Armstrong 45

Subs not used: De Vries, Toure, Bitton, Gamboa.

Ross County: Fox, Fraser, Davies, Quinn, Routis (McShane 66), McEveley, Woods, Curran, Chow, Schalk (Tumilty 62), Boyce (Morrison 76).

Goals: none

Subs not used: McCarey, Dow, Dingwall, McLaughlin.

Man of the match: Izaguirre

Match rating: 7/10

Referee: Nick Walsh

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