CELTIC restored their five point lead over Rangers at the top of the cinch Premiership table this afternoon with a narrow and hard-fought win over second-bottom Ross County at Parkhead.

Their city rivals, who still have a game in hand against County to play at Ibrox, had narrowed the gap to just two when they recorded a 1-0 triumph over St Mirren in Paisley in the early kick-off.

However, Brendan Rodgers’ side overcame Derek Adams’ team by an identical margin thanks to a rare Alistair Johnston goal after just 54 seconds.

The margin of victory would have been far more comfortable – but Luis Palma had two penalties saved by County keeper George Wickens in the first-half.

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It proved to be a nervous afternoon for the Scottish champions.

Their first January transfer window signing Nicolas Kuhn came on to make his debut after half-time and made a positive early impression. The home supporters, though, had little else to cheer during the course of 90 tense minutes.

Jordan White could have equalised in injury-time when he was clean through on the Celtic goal, but the County substitute had his shot saved by Joe Hart. There were a few boos at the end of proceedings.  

Here are five talking points from the encounter.  

Johnston off the mark at home.

The Canadian internationalist has established himself as an automatic first team starter at Celtic since moving to Scotland after the 2022 World Cup in Qatar and become a firm fans’ favourite.

However, the right back is not a regular scorer and can contribute far more on that front. He had only been on target once before today. He found the target in a rout of St Miren at the SMISA Stadium last season.

He clearly enjoyed netting for the first time at Parkhead even if his strike in the first minute took a wicked deflection off of County centre half Will Nightingale before it spun past Wickens. It would be harsh to begrudge the defender his moment of glory. His shot was, after all, on target. 

Celtic Way: Celtic defender Alistair JohnstonHis goal looked set to open the floodgates. But it proved to be the difference between the teams when the final whistle blew.

Bernabei start

With Greg Taylor being ruled out for a few weeks by a calf strain, the lesser spotted Alexandro Bernabei came in to the Celtic side at left back.

There were high hopes for the Argentinian defender when he was signed from Lanus in his homeland for a £3.7m fee back in the summer of 2022. Fans hoped the South American could help elevate them to a new level both domestically and in Europe.

However, the 23-year-old has hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons, like being arrested in Glasgow city centre and charged with drink driving or sleeping in and missing a team meeting, since.

Rodgers admitted the player “hasn’t had the best time of it” and stressed he wanted to see “his best form” when he spoke to BBC Radio Scotland before kick-off.

Could he grasp a rare opportunity – this was just his fifth appearance of the season and his first start since last May – and show he has a long-term future in the East End of Glasgow?

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Bernabei did well to burst forward into the visitors’ box and play a dangerous ball across goal before the opener. He also threaded a nice pass through to Callum McGregor before the penalty award. He then skipped in between James Brown and Brandon Khela and created an opening in the second-half.

He has to continue in the same vein to justify the sizeable sum it took to secure his services and keep Taylor out when his club mate is available again.

Palma penalties

The Honduran winger was given the chance to atone for a weak attempt from 12 yards out which George Wickens kept out after a VAR check showed three outfield players had been guilty of encroachment.

But the wide man’s second effort was every bit as bad and Wickens denied him with an almost identical save.

Palma has converted from the spot against Aberdeen, Hibernian and Feyenoord this term. It may, though, be time for somebody else in the Celtic side to take responsibility for penalties. His misses kept County in the game.   

450 not out

Celtic captain Callum McGregor set another major career milestone this afternoon when he took to the field to play his 450th game for his boyhood heroes.

The midfielder angered County forward Simon Murray in the first-half. His opponent felt he went  down far too easily when he challenged for the ball and lashed out after the spot kick had been awarded.

Celtic Way: But Adams’ men struggled to get close to the Scotland internationalist thereafter. He performed with all of his usual assurance and authority in the middle of the park and ensured his side saw off spirited rivals. He was a deserved recipient of the Man of the Match award. 

Who knows how many more matches McGregor has for Celtic ahead of him?

County fight

This loss extended the Highland club’s winless run to six matches. But they can take great heart from their overall showing. If they keep playing like this they will stay up come May.

Wickens, who joined them on loan from Fulham this month, was superb. And they certainly had their opportunities to level. Not least when Nightingale got on the end of a Yan Dhanda corner and struck the Celtic crossbar with a header.

Few teams have competed so well with their hosts at Parkhead this season. They can go into their massive match against Livingston at Almondvale on Tuesday night with high hopes of taking three important points.