Cast your mind back to earlier this month. February ended with a 100% domestic record, qualification for the League Cup Final and two merit awards for performances against Inter Milan. We then walloped nearest challengers Aberdeen 4-0. A small matter of a game against St Johnstone lay ahead before the Scottish and League Cup double-header against Dundee United. Which we lost. At home.
If a team drops even a few percentage points below its optimum the actual drop in results achieved can be enormous. Celtic have answered all the big questions over the last seven weeks, despite the reversal in Milan; there will inevitably be a drop in adrenaline when normality returns, which is tomorrow, again against United.
We have a month to prepare for the Scottish Cup semi-final but another St Johnstone-type episode would cut the gap at the top to zero points, with Celtic having one game in hand.
I’m a great believer than a manager cannot and should not ask his players to climb the mountain every time. If he does, he loses that special intensity he’ll need for the truly big occasions. The players, from captain to novice, must carry the burden.
Niggles between players happen in every game. On most occasions it will be a couple of months before you face the same opponent again, so whatever happened last time will have been replaced in the mind’s gallery of items the player feels sore about.
Since Scottish football became the Celtic-Dundee United show that’s changed. A player who elbowed you last game will be running at you next time out. This is the stuff red cards are made of.
There is a chance that we’ve beaten United into submission and that they’ll turn up in body, not mind, tomorrow, but if Jackie McNamara manages to convince them they are victims of wanton Celtic player’s face-on-United player’s elbow action, you can expect more reds.
Keep your cool, Celtic. Nothing more than wanton hair ruffling.