Stokes gets Celtic's fire burning
A late Anthony Stokes strike gave profligate Celtic a 2-1 victory over Ross County in their Scottish Premiership opener at Parkhead.
Staggies debutant Darren Maatsen stunned the Hoops fans after just two minutes when he lashed the ball high past Celtic keeper Fraser Forster from the edge of the box.
Stokes levelled with a scrappy goal in the 27th minute and Celtic pounded the Dingwall team for most of the game thereafter, hitting woodwork twice amid a litany of missed chances before the Irishman grabbed his second in the 87th minute.
Aside from the sheer amount of chances his side missed, another worry for Neil Lennon would be the injury to debutant Derk Boerrigter.
The 26-year-old Dutch wide man, who signed a four-year deal from Ajax in midweek for a reported fee of B#3million, was replaced by Tony Watt near the end of the first half after picking up a knock.
He may be doubtful for the second leg of Celtic's Champions League third qualifier against Elfsborg in Sweden on Wednesday night, the Hoops travelling with a 1-0 win from the first leg in Glasgow.
The Celtic players were given a guard of honour by County before before John Keane, honorary chairman of Celtic, along with chairman Ian Bankier, unfurled the club's 44th championship flag.
The champions appeared to be caught cold when play began.
Debutant Kevin Luckassen had a decent chance in the opening moments when he was played in by another new boy Graham Carey but he hesitated with his shot blocked by Celtic defender Charlie Mulgrew.
However, when County next went up the park, Stuart Kettlewell laid the ball off to Maatsen at the edge of the box, the former Excelsior player thundered a drive past the flailing Forster and in off the crossbar.
That was enough to shake Celtic into action and Boerrigter missed two chances to score with Stokes inexplicably passing up on another opportunity by passing to Joe Ledley 12 yards out when he should have shot.
As Celtic stepped up the pressure James Forrest flashed a left-footed shot wide of the post from the edge of the box before Mark Brown made a fine save from Kris Commons' powerful drive.
The visitors failed to defend the corner properly and when Ledley's drive from just inside box was saved by Brown, Lustig turned the ball towards the goal and Stokes chased it to the post before knocking it over the line.
Boerrigter then had to be replaced by Watt after picking up an injury trying to get on the end of a Stokes ball.
It was unfortunate for the Dutchman who had refuted claims he had been injury prone in Holland at the pre-match press conference on Friday.
Brown had to make another save two minutes from the break, this time from Stokes, after the County defence had been undone again with a simple long ball.
An impressive start to the second half by the home side saw Stokes miss a decent chance with a header before unluckily volleying just past the post from a Forrest cross.
But the pattern was set.
In the 51st minute Commons smacked the top of the crossbar from eight yards after being set up by Watt before County defender Branislav Micic bravely blocked a goal-bound shot from the Hoops midfielder.
In a rare Staggies threat in the 58th minute Carey dipped a free-kick from 30 yards just over the bar.
However, minutes later Staggies stopper Grant Munro almost put through his own goal trying to cut out a Stokes cross with Brown again having to make a good save.
Celtic were relentless. In the 65th minute defender Mulgrew headed a Commons corner against the post before the visitors cleared their lines.
In the 76th minute referee William Collum angered the Hoops fans and Lennon when he refused to point to the spot after another County debutant Brian McLean clashed with Stokes inside the box, sending the Irishman to the ground.
With seven minutes remaining, and anxiety inside Celtic Park increasing, Commons worked a one-two with Stokes but again Brown foiled the close-range attempt from the former Nottingham Forest player.
However, Celtic got the goal their pressure deserved when Stokes twisted and turned inside the box before driving low past Brown before racing to take the acclaim of the relieved Lennon.