Samaras, Stokes combine to rout Caley
At last for Neil Lennon, the cup that cheers. The Celtic manager had the luxury of reshuffling more than half of his outfield players and acquiring a victory that sustains an impressive domestic momentum.
Georgios Samaras plundered three goals from the proceedings. The Greek forward got his first after 17 minutes when Caley failed to clear their lines at a corner-kick and allowed Joe Ledley to strike a drive that Samaras diverted past Jonny Tuffey, although there was some suspicion that the contact had been made by Ross Tokely.
His second goal went all around the houses before finding the net. Samaras romped on to a ball pitched long beyond the Caley Thistle backline --he was a good 10 yards behind the central defenders -- but had been played onside by Graeme Shinnie, who had dropped back from midfield to help his rearguard only to annul their efforts to press up on the Celtic forwards.
Samaras ambled into the Inverness box and drew Tuffey before flicking the ball to the goalkeeper's right. It was a leisurely attempt and looked as though it hardly had the momentum to cross the line, so much so that David Proctor was able to intercept. The Caley man, however, looked on aghast as the ball spun off his boot and rolled into the net at last.
Between times Gary Hooper had put Celtic 2-0 ahead with a swivel and shot on the six-yard line.
From Lennon's perspective, though, the evening had become a romp made all the more pleasurable because he had made six changes from the side that came from behind at Rugby Park to beat Kilmarnock on Sunday.
The interval failed to alter the pattern of events and Samaras notched his third when he worked his way along the edge of the Inverness box until he found an open door and drove hard through the gap and beyond Tuffey.
Samaras departed to a standing ovation and was replaced by Shaun Maloney, which was no relief to the beleaguered Caley defenders, but the punishment still to be visited on them was administered by Anthony Stokes. He would have taken a penalty in Ayrshire at the weekend had he not been thwarted by Daryl Murphy, but he had no contenders for the duty when he was sent sprawling by Tuffey and he duly converted with gusto.
Stokes beat the goalkeeper again with a thrashed drive that Tuffey touched, but could not stop, to add his double to the Samaras treble.