Scottish Premier League

Celtic goes 18 points clear

Kris Commons of Celtic
Kris Commons scored Celtic's equalizer against Incerness Caledonian Thistle.
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A makeshift Celtic side cruised to a 3-1 comeback victory at Inverness to go 18 points clear of the Highlanders at the top of the Scottish Premier League table.

Nick Ross gave Caley the lead in the ninth minute only for Hoops midfielder Kris Commons to level in the 20th minute with the sweetest of left-footed strikes.

Three minutes into the second half debutant Rami Gershon headed the champions into the lead before Miku grabbed a third in the 82nd minute as the visitors ran out easy winners.

However, for the Parkhead club, this game was less about cementing their place at the top of the table and more about the first leg of their Champions League last-16 clash with Juventus at Parkhead on Tuesday night.

As promised, Neil Lennon rang the changes although number one keeper Fraser Forster was back after recovering from a neck injury and handed the captaincy in the absence of Scott Brown.

Israel centre-back Gershon, on loan until the end of the season from Standard Liege, and Australian midfielder Tom Rogic, who signed from Central Coast Mariners, were two of nine changes to the side that beat Raith Rovers in the William Hill Scottish Cup last week.

Defender Marcus Fraser started in the SPL for the first time while there were rare starts for Paddy McCourt, Dylan McGeouch and Miku.

Caley showed one change with midfielder Ross Draper in for Richie Foran, who was not even in the squad.

The lunchtime kick-off gave a sleepy feel to the stadium with both sides taking time to get into their stride.

The first real effort on goal came in the seventh minute when Caley striker Billy McKay took a pass from Draper at the edge of the box following a swift break but fired wide of the target.

Two minutes later though, with Hoops fans still making their way into the ground, Terry Butcher's men went ahead.

Aaron Doran's dangerous right-footed cross from the left appeared to be kneed away by Forster but only as far as Ross at the edge of the box who, with green and white shirts slow to close him down, fired it back into the corner of the net.

The goal stung Celtic into action and it was Rogic who showed why Lennon was so keen to bring him over from Australia in January.

The midfielder drove into the right side of box, skipping past Owain Tudur Jones with ease, and when his cutback arrived at Commons on the far side, the Scotland midfielder rifled it high past Ryan Esson from 14 yards.

The champions were up and running and moments later Hoops striker Anthony Stokes laid the ball back to Rogic and his side-footed shot from outside the box went just over the bar.

Celtic had control of matters and in the 32nd minute they were presented with a good opportunity after McCourt was hauled back 25 yards from goal by Draper but Commons blasted the free-kick over the bar.

Five minutes from the break Commons lost then regained possession and drove forward before setting up Stokes on the left side of the box.

However, the Irishman's powerful drive was blocked by Caley defender Josh Meekings for a corner, which the home side survived.

Moments later, in a rare attack at the other end, Doran set up Andrew Shinnie with a cross from the right but the Inverness forward slashed the ball over from 12 yards.

Joe Chalmers replaced Commons for the start of the second half, emphasising again the importance Lennon was giving to the visit of Juventus.

There was a penalty shout moments after the restart when Doran's cross from the right was blocked by Fraser but referee Craig Thomson pointed for a corner kick and the Parkhead men easily cleared their lines.

Gershon's goal in the 48th minute was simple enough.

The Israeli stopper rose inside a packed Caley box to power a header past the helpless Esson from McGeouch's flighted cross and suddenly Inverness looked shot of confidence.

On the hour mark Stokes headed a McGeouch corner off the bar before Caley eventually got the ball away at the expense of another corner, which they defended, if shakily.

The home side rallied in the final quarter and for the first time in the game, began to exert some pressure.

In the 71st minute, as the ball pinballed around the Celtic penalty area, Hoops substitute Adam Matthews, on for Gershon, was on hand to clear a shot from McKay off the line as the Parkhead side wobbled.

However, with eight minutes remaining Caley found themselves further behind as they pushed up the park.

Tony Watt, on for McCourt, sent Stokes free on a counter-attack and when the former Hibernian striker played in Miku he slotted it past Esson from eight yards and there was still time for the Venezuelan then hit the post from a Matthews cross.

In the end, Celtic's victory with what was effectively a reserve side was convincing and while it may not frighten Juventus, it looks ominous for the rest of Scottish football for the forthcoming years.

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