Match Preview - Celtic (A)
By Peter Mackay
The winter break has been and gone, and it is finally time for Derek Adams’ Ross County side to make their long-awaited return to league action. It’s right back in at the deep end for the Staggies as they make the trip to the east end of Glasgow to face Celtic.
It has been plain sailing for Celtic since Brendan Rogers returned to the club. The Hoops have lost just two matches in the Premiership so far this season, all whilst managing to fire in 53 goals in just 22 matches.
Although they might not be as feared as a side compared to the Ange Postecoglou era, the results under Rodgers speak for themselves – Celtic are an incredibly strong force.
The last time Celtic lost a match was on the 16th of December to Hearts, where they slumped to a 2-0 loss at home.
Since then, the Bhoys have won five on the spin, and look back to their best.
Celtic have the second-best defensive record in the league, shipping just 15 goals. It is going to be a tough task for the Dingwall boys at Parkhead, however, stranger things have happened.
Player to Watch
Matt O’Riley has been the player of the year for the green and white side.
With an ability to play anywhere across the midfield, he has proven his value on another level this season. So much so that he has been subjected to an alleged £20 million bid from Atletico Madrid.
With ten goals and seven assists in 21 matches in the league, the Danish midfielder is most definitely a danger to the Staggies and a player that Celtic will inevitably look to play through.
It has been a difficult return to action for County as Partick Thistle caused an upset in Dingwall and knocked us out of the Scottish Cup, courtesy of a 3-0 victory.
The performance wasn’t good enough, but this fixture offers a chance to hit reset. Of course, playing the Champions is never easy, but the pressure is off the Highlanders on this occasion.
Derek Adams will be looking for a marked improvement from his players, hoping to put on a strong display and potentially go toe to toe with Celtic.
New signing Teddy Jenks and Loick Ayina will both be available for selection.
Unfortunately, we are suffering from a slight injury crisis at this moment in time. Midfielder Scott Allardice has been hit with a bad knee injury which will see him sidelined for three months. Dylan Smith, Jack Baldwin and Ryan Leak are also all hampered by injury, leaving defensive options scarce.
Player to Watch
Simon Murray has put in a power of work for Ross County this season. The striker has been a mainstay in the XI this season, and his directness and pace have caused defences many issues. The power of the former Hibernian man could be the key for the Staggies in this match.
Murray was somewhat critical of the effort of the group as a whole against Partick Thistle, so you can guarantee he will be leading the line with even more than his usual gritted passion on Saturday.
Simon has netted on four occasions this season as well as grabbing one assist. However, his overall play makes him stand out, but most importantly his work rate at the top end of the park is unmatched.
If the players around Simon can create some opportunities for him, the County support will be confident in his abilities to bolster the Staggies.
‘From the Dugout with Derek Adams’ – By Roy Templeton
With more than 700 games in the dugout at various clubs under his belt, County boss Derek Adams is not new to the vagaries of football management.
But despite that vast experience over many years, the last few weeks have tested the Adams patience to the full. And with a visit to title holders Celtic at a packed and noisy Parkhead ahead on Saturday, he knows all too well that things might not get much easier in the short term.
His Chairman has spoken publicly about the Adams passion for the club and that passion was clear for all to see when he previewed the task ahead following the hugely disappointing Scottish Cup defeat to Partick.
"I've been here twice before as manager and it's a club I care deeply about," he confessed.
"I love the place and it's why I took the decision to come back again. No one forced me - it was my decision - and I'm delighted to be here. I've had great times here in the past and I hurt just as much as the fans do when we disappoint them," he said.
Continuity, while still having healthy competition for places - ideally two players vying for each position - is where he'd like to get to, but Lady Luck has not been kind recently with defensive injuries in particular a major headache. Add in a raft of inherited longer-term contracts, which restricts his ability to freshen the team up in the way he would wish for, and you see why he doesn't have his troubles to seek.
"When you have a plan in mind but you don't have the tools to carry it out at the moment, that's frustrating."
When he previewed this weekend's match in midweek he only had one centre half to call on and he concedes that the recent injuries have led to a minor rethink on who he can bring in on loan.
With characteristic honesty, a trait he admits does not always sit well with some, he smiled ruefully when asked if now was a good time was to be playing the title leaders on their own patch.
Playing Celtic in the past, he has tried various different formations with the aim of coming away from Parkhead with something tangible.
"I think only Hearts have gone and won there recently so the scale of the challenge is there for all to see. But players always want to go there and perform - and we've got some talented lads here who can cause them problems.
"Yes it's a tough ask, and we know we'll have to be at the top of our game and hope Celtic are not, but if you don't enjoy that sort of challenge you shouldn't be playing football for a living."
One such player is Yan Dhanda , the man Adams made captain last Saturday in the absence of the injured Jack Baldwin, and who is likely to again be on-park leader with Baldwin now suspended.
"I've never seen a happier man when I handed him the captain's armband. He's a special boy and a special player, with great work ethic and flair. And he's a player fans want to watch."
Maybe a bit of that Dhanda magic on Saturday will help County pull off a shock - and make the return trip back up the A9 a bit more palatable.
We have had many successful clashes with the green half of Glasgow – some particularly the biggest results in Ross County history.
In what turned out to be Neil Lennon’s last game in charge, Jordan White powered home a magnificent header in a 1-0 victory masterminded by former gaffer John Hughes in 2021.
Earlier in that same season, Celtic crashed out of the cup at the hands of ourselves. Ross Stewart and Alex Iacovitti netted to give us a magnificent 2-1 win in a memorable cup upset.
One that Ross County fans still chat about to this day is of course the 2016 League Cup semi-final, in which we put Celtic to the sword in a bruising 3-1 win. Martin Woods netted from the penalty spot, while goals from Paul Quinn and Alex Schalk made sure that we were finalists.
Staggies legend Michael Gardyne came through the ranks with the Hoops, and he of course arrived in Dingwall and became not only the club record goal scorer but appearance holder too.
Jackson Irvine, Marcus Fraser, and Scott Fox were all cup winners with the Staggies who came through the Celtic academy.
Paul Lawson, who had great success here in Dingwall, was another player who made their way into the professional game in the east end of Glasgow.
Referee: Euan Anderson
AR1: Alastair Mather
AR2: Drew Kirkland
Fourth Official: Iain Snedden
VAR: Greg Aitken
AVAR: Ross Macleod
Ross Callachan is still sidelined.
Scott Allardice will be out for an extended period of around three months after picking up a knee injury.
Dylan Smith requires surgery and will be out of action for around ten weeks.
Ryan Leak and Jack Baldwin are also injured.
Tickets can be purchased here: 2324 VS CELTIC - MyProVenue™ (tickets.com)