Celtic go seven points clear in Scotland
INVERNESS 1 CELTIC 3
Celtic moved seven points clear of Aberdeen at the top of the Scottish Premiership with a 3-1 win over Inverness at a freezing Tulloch Caledonian Thistle Stadium.
Ronny Deila's side crashed out of the Europa League with a 2-1 defeat to Ajax on Thursday night which left the Norwegian boss under increasing pressure but they returned to domestic duty to show their mettle.
Midfielder Callum McGregor was on target with a fine drive from distance with only seven minutes gone but that was cancelled out by Caley striker Miles Storey in the 39th minute.
Inverness matched Celtic into the second half but in the 59th minute Leigh Griffiths drove in a Kieran Tierney cross and with five minutes remaining substitute Carlton Cole, making his debut, tangled with Danny Devine with the ball ending up in the net for an untidy but satisfactory conclusion for the champions.
The visitors were boosted by the return of midfielders Nir Bitton and Stefan Johansen from suspension with Gary Mackay-Steven dropped to the bench and James Forrest out altogether.
Captain Gary Warren and Ross Draper returned for the home side at the expense of Lewis Horner, who started as substitute, with Carl Tremarco missing from a six-man bench.
Inverness' pitch had survived a morning inspection but there appeared to be plenty of surface water and conditions underfoot were tricky.
However, there was nothing tentative about McGregor when he drove at the Inverness defence and in the absence of anything resembling a challenge he almost casually drove the ball from 20 yards past Owain Fon Williams and into the corner of the net.
The goal spurred the home side into action and moments later Warren's powerful close-range header from a Storey corner was blocked by Hoops keeper Craig Gordon before Josh Meekings curled the ball wide of the far post.
The heat dropped out of the match until a surge of energy six minutes from the interval saw Inverness level.
Storey raced through the middle of the Hoops defence rather easily after taking a Liam Polworth pass and although his first effort from point-blank range was saved by Gordon, the 21-year-old slipped the loose ball into the empty net.
John Hughes' side started the second half in positive mode with Draper heading a cross from Meekings past Gordon's left-hand post but Celtic slowly grew stronger.
Scott Allan replaced Stuart Armstrong in the 55th minute and four minutes later he set up 18-year-old left-back Tierney down the left-hand side and his cut-back was promptly and confidently swept into the net by Griffiths from six yards.
With the travelling fans still celebrating, Cole replaced Tom Rogic to make his Hoops debut.
The former West Ham striker was denied a goal moments later when his close-range header from a McGregor cross was pushed over the bar by Williams for a corner which was again defended by the home side.
Tobi Sho-Silva and Andrea Mutombo came on for Iain Vigurs and James Vincent in the 73rd minute as Inverness went all out for the equaliser and moments later, from Greg Tansey's corner, Johansen had to clear off the line.
But with five minutes remaining, after Williams had parried a Griffiths shot, Cole failed to get his rebound shot away and when he and Devine tussled on the ground the ball somehow ended up in the net.