Jota and substitute Alexandro Bernabei struck at the end of each half as Celtic defeated Ross County 2-0 in Dingwall to maintain their nine-point advantage over Rangers at the top of the cinch Premiership ahead of next weekend’s Glasgow derby.
Portuguese winger Jota netted the opener after referee Willie Collum – following a VAR review – deemed that the ball had struck Alex Iacovitti’s arm in the box, much to the dismay of the home side.
Bernabei eventually made sure of the points with a stunning strike in stoppage time, ensuring Ange Postecoglou’s rampant side go into Saturday’s home showdown with Rangers buoyed by a 15-game winning run in all competitions since their 2-2 draw at Ibrox at the start of January.
County – who produced a spirited display – remain in the relegation play-off spot, two points ahead of last-placed Dundee United, after suffering a third straight defeat.
Staggies boss Malky Mackay made two tweaks to the team that started the 2-1 loss at Livingston in their previous match as Josh Sims and Keith Watson made way for David Cancola and 16-year-old centre-back Dylan Smith, who was handed his first start.
Celtic made one enforced change to the side that started the 3-1 win over Hibernian before the international break as Japanese midfielder Tomoki Iwata came in for his first start since joining in January, replacing injured countryman Reo Hatate.
The visitors had the first clear chance of the match in the 10th minute when Cameron Carter-Vickers bulleted a header over the bar after Alistair Johnston had nodded Matt O’Riley’s free-kick back across goal.
Jota then turned and shot wide from inside the box after being slipped in by Iwata in the 23rd minute but Celtic – although enjoying the bulk of the possession – were generally struggling to create clear chances.
The visitors cranked things up a notch towards the end of the first half and Jota blasted over from 10 yards out in the 37th minute after Johnston had burst down the right and evaded the challenge of two County players before cutting the ball back into the path of the Portuguese.
The Hoops went desperately close in the 42nd minute when Greg Taylor cut in from the left and unleashed a sumptuous shot from the angle of the box that came off the far post. The left-back went close again in the last minute of the first half when his shot from 12 yards out was superbly saved by Ross Laidlaw.
Celtic eventually made the breakthrough in first-half stoppage time after being awarded a penalty following a VAR review.
Referee Collum was invited to the pitchside monitor and he required only a few seconds to decide that the ball had struck Iacovitti’s left arm as he tried to challenge Carter-Vickers for a crossed ball into the box.
Jota duly fired his spot-kick straight down the middle and into the net as Laidlaw dived to his right. The half-time whistle sounded immediately afterwards and several County players surrounded Collum to protest the decision before making their way up the tunnel.
County started the second half brightly and Eamonn Brophy – from a free-kick – and Gwion Edwards both fired efforts narrowly wide within six minutes of the restart.
Celtic went close to adding to their lead in the 54th minute when Daizen Maeda rounded Laidlaw and saw an effort from a tight angle cleared by Iacovitti before Kyogo Furuhashi blew a golden opportunity when he shot wide from 10 yards after being teed up by Maeda.
Jota cracked a late shot off the crossbar before Bernabei fired in a stunning 20-yard strike to seal the points in the fifth minute of stoppage time, sparking chants of “bring on the Rangers” from the jubilant travelling support at full-time.