Manager Ange Postecoglou said Celtic required “perseverance” to earn a hard-fought Scottish Premiership win against a stubborn Ross County.
County kept the visitors at bay until the 64th minute, when debutant centre-back Cameron Carter-Vickers’ long-range strike deflected over Ross Laidlaw.
Six minutes later, Albian Ajeti scored to put the game out of reach, before nodding in a third to move Celtic up to fifth place.
“We needed a goal to open the door for them,” Postecoglou explained.
“When you don’t get it, they gain confidence and defend well. We’ve seen in previous games that scoring early opens up the game. At halftime, we told the entire team to “stick to our principles.””
County drop to 11th place and have yet to win a league game this season.
However, Malky Mackay will be encouraged by his team’s shape and organisation for the first hour of the game.
Celtic, meanwhile, put the distractions surrounding chief executive Dom McKay’s surprise departure to one side as they eventually broke down a tenacious visiting defence to secure their third straight home league win.
The hosts were also without Kyogo Furuhashi, who is out for at least a month with a knee injury.
Expectations were placed on debutant winger Jota, and he was living up to them early on, saving a long-range shot and having a close-range effort sail over either side of Liel Abada, who had an attempt parried onto the bar.
Celtic kept probing, and a free-flowing breakaway resulted in Ajeti’s tame effort being saved, before David Turnbull’s 25-yard effort went just wide of the near post.
County put in a power performance to limit Celtic’s chances and began to pose a threat of their own when Blair Spittal fired in a dangerous cross to no avail and Jack Burroughs lashed wide when a cross was the better option.
Abada hit the crossbar again with a deflected effort before firing a near-post finish into the side net. And there was a sense of frustration creeping in, with Abada, Josip Juranovic, and Jota firing off-target efforts.
It appeared that something special or fortuitous would be required to bring County down, and it was the latter as Cameron-Vickers’ deflected effort looped over a helpless Laidlaw.
County did not go down without a fight, as Joe Hart had to make a smart save to deny substitute Dominic Samuel’s header, but Abada’s inch-perfect delivery was headed in by Ajeti to end the game.
When he nodded in a close-range rebound, the Swiss striker added his second goal and Celtic’s third.
Man of the match – Jota
What did we learn?
Celtic did not let the media circus surrounding McKay’s departure, Kyogo’s absence, and a tenacious County derail their day.
Postecoglou’s side has thrashed Dundee and St Mirren 6-0 at home in the last two league games, but they needed to be patient on Saturday to earn three valuable points.
County’s start to the season has been unforgiving, with their first five league games coming against the top five from the previous season.
It was looking bleak for Mackay, but a crucial point at Aberdeen a fortnight ago and a promising display for long periods at Celtic will give the County manager hope heading into next Saturday’s home game against Hearts.
What did they say?
“I’m disappointed,” said Ross County manager Malky Mackay, “but we have to move on.” “The strategy was working. We had a couple of chances across their goal in the first half that we could have converted on another day. But I’m seeing a group of players who are starting to mature and play the way I want them to.”
Celtic go to Seville to face Real Betis on Thursday (17:45 BST) in their opening Europa League game, before a trip to Livingston in the league next Sunday (15:00). County are at home to Hearts next Saturday (15:00).