Celtic go into the winter break with a nine-point lead at the Scottish Premiership summit after hitting back to beat Ross County and capitalise on Rangers’ slip-up at St Mirren.
The Ibrox side’s earlier draw in Paisley offered the opportunity to widen the gap, but Celtic Park was stunned into silence when David Cancola rolled in a penalty opener after Matt O’Riley was penalised for handball.
The response was swift and emphatic as David Turnbull slotted home before Sead Haksabanovic completed the turnaround.
Ange Postecoglou’s men sign off for the month-long hiatus with an eighth-straight league victory, while County stay 10th after their run of back-to-back wins was halted.
Rangers’ stumble heightened expectation among the Celtic support, but the buoyant pre-match mood had turned to frustration by the break as County efficiently stymied the hosts’ attacking threat.
It soon darkened further as Callum Johnson challenged O’Riley on the edge of the Celtic box and the ball hit the midfielder’s hand, with Cancola coolly sending Joe Hart the wrong way with the spot-kick.
Suddenly Celtic summoned the urgency that been lacking in the first half when a couple of Kyogo Furuhahshi efforts narrowly off target was as close as they came.
Turnbull was denied when Ross Laidlaw superbly clawed his curling strike from the top corner, but two goals in a six-minute spell dispelled County’s hopes of a first-ever league win at Celtic Park.
The equaliser was all about Reo Hatate as the Japan midfielder danced past three players and teed up a tap-in for Turnbull.
Haksabanovic then found a terrific winner, playing a one-two with Hatate on the left edge of the box and squeezing a low, curling finish just inside the far past as Celtic Park erupted.
Substitute Giorgos Giakoumakis might have made the margin of victory more comfortable, with Laidlaw impressively thwarting the Greek.
But Celtic head to Australia for the Sydney Super Cup on a high after what could prove a pivotal day in the title race.
Player of the match – Reo Hatate
Spot-kick controversy spurs Celtic – analysis
Celtic were lacking a spark until the contentious handball decision spurred them to life. The hosts had mustered just one shot on target before the interval and were frustrated by County’s low block and defensive diligence.
Once they fell behind, though, Celtic looked a team transformed and fed off the crowd’s frenzied promptings. While Celtic have won plenty of games this season with their quality, this one was notable for their strength of character in turning the game around.
County’s league record at Celtic Park now stretches to 16 fruitless visits, but the visitors can be proud of their performance.
Malky Mackay’s men expertly frustrated Celtic in the first half, with the midfield shielding a well-drilled defence. Having seen their lead quickly wiped out, though, Mackay will be disappointed his side failed to threaten an equaliser when they went for broke in the final stages.
Still, having risen out of the bottom two in recent weeks, County have reason for optimism heading into the break.
What did they say?
Celtic manager Ange Postecoglou: “It was a big win and a strong performance. I can’t speak highly enough about this group of players.
“Whatever challenge has been thrown at us in the league, we’ve been outstanding. You don’t sense panic at any stage with us. We have some quality players but really strong characters too.”
Ross County manager Malky Mackay: “Disappointed obviously, but very proud of the team in the way they played and tactical discipline they showed to match Celtic.
“Celtic eventually got a couple of goals but they didn’t have many chances against us.”
- 6JenzSubstituted forStarfeltat 38′minutes
- 25BernabeiSubstituted forTaylorat 86′minutes
- 14TurnbullBooked at 45mins
- 38MaedaSubstituted forNeves Filipeat 69′minutes
- 8FuruhashiSubstituted forGiakoumakisat 69′minutes
- 9HaksabanovicSubstituted forAbadaat 69′minutes
- 17Neves Filipe
- 1LaidlawBooked at 56mins
- 4CancolaBooked at 41minsSubstituted forHiwula-Mayifuilaat 66′minutes
- 10DhandaSubstituted forOlaigbeat 84′minutesBooked at 88mins
- 22TillsonSubstituted forEdwardsat 75′minutes
- 11SimsSubstituted forSamuelat 66′minutesBooked at 82mins
- 26WhiteSubstituted forAkioat 87′minutes
Match ends, Celtic 2, Ross County 1.
Second Half ends, Celtic 2, Ross County 1.
Attempt missed. Liel Abada (Celtic) left footed shot from the centre of the box misses to the right. Assisted by Jota.
Attempt saved. Matt O’Riley (Celtic) left footed shot from outside the box is saved in the bottom left corner. Assisted by Giorgos Giakoumakis.
Offside, Ross County. Ross Laidlaw tries a through ball, but Alex Iacovitti is caught offside.
Offside, Ross County. Keith Watson tries a through ball, but William Akio is caught offside.
Attempt saved. Liel Abada (Celtic) right footed shot from outside the box is saved in the centre of the goal. Assisted by Anthony Ralston.
Attempt missed. Giorgos Giakoumakis (Celtic) header from the centre of the box misses to the left. Assisted by Jota with a cross following a corner.
Corner, Celtic. Conceded by Ross Laidlaw.
Attempt saved. Giorgos Giakoumakis (Celtic) right footed shot from the left side of the six yard box is saved in the centre of the goal.
Kazeem Olaigbe (Ross County) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.
Anthony Ralston (Celtic) wins a free kick in the attacking half.
Foul by Kazeem Olaigbe (Ross County).
Substitution, Ross County. William Akio replaces Jordan White.
Substitution, Celtic. Greg Taylor replaces Alexander Bernabei.
Corner, Celtic. Conceded by Keith Watson.
Corner, Celtic. Conceded by Kazeem Olaigbe.
Substitution, Ross County. Kazeem Olaigbe replaces Yan Dhanda.
Hand ball by Jota (Celtic).
Dominic Samuel (Ross County) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.