Neil Lennon: big win sets Celtic up for Lazio encounter
CELTIC boss Neil Lennon believes Saturday's 6-0 dismantling of Ross County "sets us up beautifully" for the visit of Lazio on Thursday night.
After taking just one point from their previous two Ladbrokes Premiership fixtures before the international break, there was some pressure on the champions to get back on track against the Staggies at Parkhead and their response was emphatic.
Attacker Mohamed Elyounoussi, on loan from Southampton, fired the home side ahead from 16 yards in the fourth minute but somehow the Highlanders survived to the interval without conceding any more goals.
However, four goals in nine minutes at the start of the second half from Odsonne Edouard, who struck twice, midfielder Callum McGregor and James Forrest had Lennon ecstatic long before Elyounoussi made it six to ultimately take the Hoops clear of Rangers by one goal scored at the top of the table, after the Light Blues could only draw 1-1 with Hearts on Sunday.
The Northern Irishman switched his focus to the Europa League where Celtic are top of Group E with four points as they prepare to take on Lazio on matchday three.
"It's a good response to one point from the last six," Lennon told CelticTV.
"I think we have a good team here, without getting carried away.
"We are in a good position in the group and that should give us a lot of confidence going into what should be a cracking game against Lazio.
"I hope the fans enjoyed it because that was for the fans as much as anyone else and now we are under the lights on Thursday night and I am sure will hear that roar again."
County had gone into the game unbeaten in four matches but co-manager Stuart Kettlewell was far from happy with his side's capitulation against the champions.
He said: " We said during the week that we would never be judged on what we did here but we judge ourselves as professionals and people who have goals this season and one of those goals is to acquit yourself well coming to places like this.
"This is what we wanted, we wanted to be promoted and come to places like this.
"But you can't just talk about it, you need to act it out."
The Hoops had taken only one point from their previous six before the international break to trail Old Firm rivals Rangers by two points but this was Neil Lennon's side back to their best, albeit Steven Gerrard's men get their chance to go back to the summit when they face Hearts at Tynecastle on Sunday.
Jeremie Frimpong, the 18-year-old Dutch full-back, started his first league game - Tom Rogic was in for the suspended Ryan Christie - as the champions began the match in whirlwind fashion.
Elyounoussi had already had a drive saved by County keeper Ross Laidlaw when, following another slick move, he guided the ball in to the far corner of the net.
The Staggies, with Josh Mullin and Ross Draper back in the team, had to go into survival mode.
Laidlaw made saves from Edouard and James Forrest before a low drive from the French striker following a McGregor corner was cleared off the line by former Rangers defender Richard Foster.
Edouard was again denied by Laidlaw after he barged his way into the Highlanders' box, with Elyounoussi missing the target from the rebound.
From another Celtic corner, Foster cleared a header from defender Christopher Jullien off the line and the Highlanders breathed again.
Moments later, a flowing move involving Edouard, Boli Bolingoli and Elyounoussi ended with McGregor smacking the post with a shot and Edouard knocking the loose ball wide, before he again tested the over-worked Laidlaw with an effort.
However, Celtic made sure there would be no nervy second-half as they blitzed County from the beginning.
Within a minute Edouard took advantage of a mistake by County defender Keith Watson to slip in his 10th of the season before he set up McGregor to run through and confidently knock in a third moments later.
Then, in the 50th minute Edouard's header from Forrest's cross hit Fontaine on its way in and the crowd was still catching its breath when Frimpong's cut-back was lifted high into the net by Forrest from six yards.
Vakoun Issouf Bayo replaced Edouard in the 65th minute and from his cross Bolingoli's shot was redirected in by Elyounoussi to complete a sparkling performance, with it taking another good save by Laidlaw to stop Bayo making it seven when he broke clear late in the match.