Celtic 5 Inverness CT 0: Five-star show puts Celtic on song for Europe

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The Independent Football

Celtic were accused of lacking a cutting edge en route to the title last season but Gordon Strachan appears to have corrected that flaw, as he watched his team hit five for the third successive match to take pole position in the Scottish Premier League for the first time this term. Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink struck twice as control of the leadership was seized from Rangers. A goalless opening-day draw with Kilmarnock has been followed by 22 goals in five games and Strachan's team will head to Ukraine in buoyant mood for Tuesday's Champions' League tie with Shakhtar Donetsk.

The incentive for Celtic was clear, with Rangers losing at Tynecastle in the lunchtime encounter. Inverness Caledonian Thistle's wretched start to the SPL campaign had prompted the resignation of Charlie Christie and the return to the club of Craig Brewster.

The player-manager eschewed his normal role in attack and chose a place in the dug-out as he sought to organise Inverness from the touchline. It worked for long periods of the first half, though once Vennegoor of Hesselink broke the deadlock in the 15th minute, the visitors were chasing the contest.

The Dutch international cleverly improvised after Scott McDonald and Shunsuke Nakamura combined deftly on the right for the latter to roll a pass in to Scott Brown, whose overhit pass was turned past the goalkeeper Michael Fraser by Vennegoor of Hesselink using his thigh.

However, gradually Inverness began to impose themselves, with Phil McGuire heading wide before a raking Barry Wilson shot was held by Artur Boruc. The Celtic goalkeeper eclipsed that with a stunning save to touch Don Cowie's volley wide of the post. The belief of the visitors was evident but the siege was relieved in the 41st minute when Celtic doubled their lead.

Fine passing down the left allowed Massimo Donati to get to the byline and his shot across the face of goal somehow crept in off the far post. Marius Niculae came close to halving the deficit early in the second half but when it comes to accuracy from distance, Nakamura has no peers. The Japan midfielder gathered a pass before beating Fraser with a fierce shot from 30 yards. Just three minutes later crisp passing from Aiden McGeady and Donati allowed McDonald to burst into the box and he clipped a cross to the back post where Vennegoor buried a powerful header.

Inverness hit the post twice in a remarkable assault on Celtic's goal in the 70th minute, Niculae watching as his shot bounced back to Cowie who then struck the same post before Boruc acrobatically denied Russell Duncan's venomous follow-up.

Celtic, though, scored again. McDonald's zest took him into the box and he tried to pick out Chris Killen at the near post but the cutback was stabbed into his own net by McGuire.

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