Sutton returns to steady Celtic

Celtic 3 - Inverness CT 0
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The Independent Football

Martin O'Neill has mocked suggestions of a crisis of confidence at Parkhead, but this was hardly a mission statement from Celtic. The hangover from their Old Firm defeat three days earlier may have cleared, but it has done so with diligence rather than flair.

Two second-half goals from John Hartson maintained leadership of the Scottish Premier League, but more pleasing to the Celtic manager will have been the sight of his talisman, Chris Sutton, scoring after his injury absence. With trips to Ibrox and the Nou Camp in the next 10 days, Sutton's presence will be invaluable.

Inverness Caledonian Thistle, however, are the last team Parkhead would expect to come as lambs to the slaughter. They famously knocked Celtic out of the Scottish Cup here four years ago - a result that cost John Barnes his job - and then produced a carbon- copy upset on O'Neill's team in 2003.

Celtic, though, got the start they craved after just three minutes. A patient build-up allowed them to knock the ball around on the edge of the box, with Sutton and Hartson involved, before Aiden McGeady clipped a chip across the face of goal for Sutton to meet with a header. Celtic might have expected a deluge after that, but when Hartson missed a glorious chance six minutes later, sweeping his shot over the bar from just 10 yards, the chances grew thinner as Inverness's organisation proved its worth.

The Highland side have faced one handicap after another since being pro-moted. Not only do they have to play home games 105 miles away in Aberdeen, but they have just lost their manager, with John Robertson being plundered by Hearts. Yet there was no sign of this being a dispirited bunch of players in the absence of authority in the away dugout.

Henri Camara's pace seemed certain to procure another goal just after the half-hour, but the visiting goalkeeper, Mark Brown, parried his shot and Sutton appeared to have his ankles clipped by Grant Munro as he was poised to finish off the rebound.

Celtic embraced the comfort zone when they doubled their lead in the 53rd minute with a fine goal. Camara and Jackie McNamara combined deftly near the corner flag before the latter delivered a cross which Sutton glanced on with his chest into the path of Hartson - his venomous right-foot volley was a mere blur to the bemused Brown.

The Inverness goalkeeper, however, later produced two great saves to deny Thompson and McGeady before the visitors began to summon up a threat of their own, with Wilson's 35-yard shot almost catching out Hedman.

However, the pair resumed their duel in the 74th minute when Stanislav Varga brought down Ritchie Hart in the box to allow the usually peerless Wilson a penalty. But Hedman guessed correctly and dived to his right to keep the ball out.

The punishment was compounded just two minutes later when Celtic scored their third. Again, the sublime McNamara was the creator, gathering McGeady's pass and rounding Brown before unselfishly driving the ball to the back post, where Hartson applied the finishing header.