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Football | Europe

Kris Commons © Action Images

Makeshift Celtic brush past Inverness



A makeshift Celtic side swept aside nearest challengers Inverness Caledonian Thistle 3-1 here Saturday to open up a massive 18-point lead at the top of the Scottish Premier League.

With one eye on Tuesday's Champions League last-16 first-leg clash with Juventus, Neil Lennon made nine changes to the side that faced Raith Rovers last weekend with debuts for new signings Rami Gershon and Australian international Tomas Rogic.

There were also rare starts for Paddy McCourt, Marcus Fraser and Dylan McGeouch, while goalkeeper Fraser Forster made his return from a neck injury.

Lennon's decision looked to have backfired when Inverness, who had defeated Celtic in Glasgow earlier in the season, took an early lead through Nick Ross.

But the Hoops hauled themselves level in the 20th minute when Rogic set up Kris Commons to hammer home the equaliser.

Fellow debutant Gershon headed Celtic in front for the first time in the 48th minute before Miku wrapped up the scoring in the 82nd minute as Lennon's selection gamble ultimately paid off ahead of their against the Italian league leaders at Parkhead.

"I think you saw a wee glimpse of what's coming through. Marcus Fraser, Dylan McGeouch and Rogic are young players and I thought they were fantastic," Lennon said.

"All in all, to come here against a team in second place with our first team out and to win speaks volumes for the performance of the players today."

His opposite number Terry Butcher was frustrated to see his side lose their fourth straight match.

"I'm not disappointed with the way we played, I'm disappointed with the result and losing three goals," the Inverness manager said.

At the Caledonian Stadium, Inverness took an early lead when Forster's weak clearance from a dangerous Aaron Doran cross only made it as far as the edge of the box, where Ross was on hand to drill a low shot into the bottom left-hand corner of the net.

Rogic was looking assured on his Celtic debut and had a big hand in their 20th-minute equaliser.

The Australian international broke to the byeline before cutting the ball back for teammate Commons to rifle a thunderous strike beyond Ryan Esson and into the roof of the net.

Rogic then came close to opening his Celtic account as the midfielder clipped an effort just over after being teed up by Anthony Stokes.

Inverness appealed for a penalty at the start of the second half when Doran's cross appeared to hit the elbow of Marcus Fraser but referee Craig Thomson waved away their protests.

And the home fans felt further aggrieved moments later when Gershon rose highest to connect with McGeouch's teasing cross from the right to bullet a header past Esson as Celtic took the lead.

They came close to increasing their advantage on the hour when McGeouch's corner from the left was headed off the top of the crossbar by Stokes at the back post.

Adam Matthews replaced goalscorer Gershon and one of his first tasks was to clear a Billy McKay effort off the line in the 71st minute after Draper had seen his initial effort blocked as Inverness pushed for an equaliser.

Celtic then moved further ahead in a quick counter-attacking move, as substitute Tony Watt's cross-field pass found Stokes, who squared the ball for Miku to side-foot low under Esson.

Elsewhere, Motherwell missed the chance to move into second as they lost 2-0 away to Kilmarnock, while Dundee United moved up to sixth as new boss Jackie McNamara marked his league debut with a 3-1 win over Hearts, and Aberdeen's clash with St Mirren ended goalless.

On Friday, Ross County won 2-0 at Dundee to leave the Dens Park club 14 points adrift at the foot.

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