Alistair Johnston celebrates after his goal. Alamy Stock Photo
Still On Top

Palma misses two penalty attempts but Johnston delivers Celtic victory

Alistair Johnston’s deflected first-minute strike was enough to beat Ross County.

LUIS PALMA TWICE missed a penalty as Celtic relied on Alistair Johnston’s deflected first-minute strike to beat Ross County 1-0 in the Premiership.

Johnston’s first goal of the season looked set to open the floodgates but County responded well and on-loan Fulham goalkeeper George Wickens kept them in the game by denying Palma a second time from the spot following a retake.

The visitors hit the crossbar through Will Nightingale and the Celtic Park crowd endured a nervy finale as County finished strongly.

It was job done for Celtic in the end as they restored their five-point lead in the cinch Premiership following Rangers’ lunchtime win over St Mirren, but the final whistle was met with a mixture of cheers, jeers and relief after County twice came close in stoppage-time.

Callum McGregor returned from his extended winter break to make his 450th Celtic appearance, while Cameron Carter-Vickers was back from a hamstring injury to replace Maik Nawrocki.

A calf injury for Greg Taylor paved the way for Alexandro Bernabei to make his first start and only fifth appearance under Brendan Rodgers.

The left-back made his mark in the opening minute as his low cross found Liel Abada. The Israel international’s shot was blocked before falling for Johnston 18 yards out. The right-back’s strike appeared to take a deflection off Nightingale before spinning over the line.

Without a win in their previous five games and on the back of a 3-0 cup defeat by Partick Thistle – which elicited another interview from manager Derek Adams which was unlikely to help team morale – the visitors might have been expected to fold.

But they responded with a decent spell of pressure of their own, although they should have been two down when Wickens’ parry from Matt O’Riley’s strike fell for Paulo Barnardo 12 yards out, although the Portuguese midfielder shot over the empty net.

Celtic had another glorious chance after Simon Murray tripped McGregor inside the box.

Palma delayed the run-up to his first penalty attempt and Wickens dived low to his right to stop.

After a lengthy delay, referee Euan Anderson signalled a retake, given the video assistant had spotted three County players encroaching inside the box. Palma delivered almost the exact same spot-kick – minus the delay – and Wickens saved again.

Celtic almost paid the price when Joe Hart completely missed Yan Dhanda’s corner but Nightingale headed off the crossbar from close range.

Wickens produced two more saves from Palma just before the interval to leave the game in the balance.

Celtic were more in control after the break but a two-goal cushion proved elusive.

O’Riley twice came close from long range and Wickens made a good stop from a header from Carter-Vickers, who made way for Nawrocki in the 64th minute as Rodgers looks to ensure his return is lasting.

Nicolas Kuhn replaced Palma at the same time to make his debut and the former Rapid Vienna winger showed flashes of skill and direct running.

However, County were encouraged by the narrow scoreline and put Celtic under pressure in the closing stages.

Josh Sims embarked on a lengthy run and squared for fellow substitute Jordan White, whose effort was held at the second attempt by Hart following an initial parry at full stretch.

The home support showed their frustration as Celtic failed to manage the game and Sims also came close when he hooked the ball over from six yards.

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