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ABSENT MINDED; EVERY GOAL .. EVERY GAME .. EVERY MONDAY Celts fans seem more concerned with missing players than the ones on park fighting for title.

CELTIC 2 ROSS COUNTY 0 Michael Gannon at Celtic Park IT'S maybe a sign all is not hunky-dory at Celtic Park when folk spend as much time talking about things that are not there as they do about issues on the pitch.

Absence makes the heart grow fonder and all that, especially around these parts.

Bobo Balde turned into Franco Baresi during his exiled later years at Parkhead. Derek Riordan became Ronaldinho when Gordon Strachan was giving him the rubber ear.

It's starting to get a bit that way with Scott Allan and Ryan Christie.

Maybe Patrick Roberts is heading for the same camp.

There was no sign of any of those three at Celtic Park on Saturday.

They weren't injured. Just not deemed good enough.

Allan managed to make the 20-man squad but not the 18 who are required to stick the boots and shinguards on.

Ronny Deila said: "It's tough to pick the team now. It's competition and everybody has to work to get in the team. It's the reality of playing here."

Or not playing. Christie and Roberts were just bums on seats. Which might have actually been no bad thing as there were plenty of them to fill.

That's the other big absence which got tongues wagging.

The place was a ghost town. Celtic's announcer used to read out the attendance in the second half and the fans would give themselves a wee congratulatory clap.

At this rate the guy on the tannoy will be able to read out all the names in the crowd.

No official attendance was released but there were barely 30,000 to see this routine win. It's no bad crowd in the grand scheme of things.

There will be guys in the stands who remember the dark dying days of the old Celtic board when they were lucky to get half that number. But it's still no great shakes compared to recent history and current circumstances.

Celtic are in a title race. The league table shows it as Saturday's win put Deila's side three points clear of Aberdeen with the Dons having the chance to go above them with two games in five days.

The Staggies game should have been a statement of intent. It should have been the punters getting back in and up for the race.

But they obviously don't buy it.

When season-ticket holders are not turning up for must-win games it shows they don't believe it's a contest. It's a sleepwalk. Which is a shame.

That's not to say the win over County was a classic. Far from it. But let's be honest, if the side next to Celtic in the table was wearing blue, this would be the kind of scruffy win fans would have been delighted to get out of the way.

Instead the ones who did turn up spent a lot of time grumbling about the guys not playing and moaning at the ones who were.

Poor Stefan Johansen copped it again. There were even some cheers when his number came up for the hook.

The jeers were drowned out by more forgiving fans but it showed the discontent.

It was a bit harsh. Johansen wasn't that bad. He was actually pretty decent. He fluffed a couple of chances and misplaced a few passes. He dived into one tackle so late it drew a gasp.

Thankfully he didn't make contact but it was just frustration getting the better of him. It's not happening for the Norwegian right now but he's trying to power through.

At least he doesn't hide. The same goes for Stuart Armstrong and Gary Mackay-Steven who also were on the end of the odd howl of anguish.

GMS didn't have the best of games but Armstrong was decent and it was his terrific cross that teed up Dedryck Boyata to nod home the second.

It was the goals that changed this game. Talk about stating the bleeding obvious - but it was true.

Celtic started like lightning but didn't find the net. It took until a minute before the interval to make the breakthrough.

By that stage the punters were getting pretty tetchy. Every misplaced ball led to a collective grown. When Leigh Griffiths went around keeper Scott Fox only to hit the post, there were clumps of hair being torn out.

Trust Griffiths to lift the gloom though. Johansen made a nuisance of himself in the box, forcing Chris Robertson to head his clearance straight to Celtic's most lethal man.

The finish was impressive, the timing was crucial. County had weathered the early storm but the goal ripped up their gameplan.

Injuries to Paul Quinn and Marcus Fraser made it a day to write off for the Highlanders. There was never any danger of them pulling off a repeat of their League Cup semi-final win.

Instead Celtic stepped on the gas. Boyata's goal sealed it and there could have been more.

Deila said it was a "good start". He meant restart. After losing to County and Aberdeen it's about clearing the heads and getting going for the run-in.

Certain players and thousands of fans might be missing but the absence of the Premiership trophy is still unthinkable at Parkhead.

PRISON BREAK RONNY DEILA said he felt like a criminal after recent defeats but he can always count on Leigh Griffiths to get him out of jail. NO SIGNS OF LIFE THE Scott Allan signing is looking more and more puzzling after he failed to even make the bench. SILVER LINING IT has been a bad week for County but a League Cup Final in the background means the gloom won't last too long.

Everybody has to work hard to get in the team. It's the reality of playing at Celtic

CAPTION(S):

DED-LY Boyata shows his strength to power home the second for Celtic

NO MERCY Griffiths makes County pay as he capitalises on a mistake to fire home
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Feb 15, 2016
Words:988
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