THERE will be no prizes handed out at Parkhead this afternoon, but you, me and the family cat know that the Premiership silverware will not be moving from its present residence any time soon if Celtic win.

Football, as we have found to our painful cost in the past, can be a tad tempestuous and unpredictable, but there is surely no way whatsoever Brendan Rodgers’ side could possibly fail to retain the title for the third successive season if they emerge victorious from today’s skirmish.

Holding a six-point advantage with two games to play – Kilmarnock at Rugby Park in midweek and St Mirren in Paradise a week today – it would take an upheaval of seismic proportions to prevent the flag from flying in the east end of Glasgow for the twelfth time in 13 years.

PARADISE…Brendan Rodgers is poised for a third Celtic title success.

It is more likely to discover that Clement and Caldwell share the same hairdresser than Brendan’s Bhoys tripping up at this late stage.

It’s a spectacle with the potential to conjure dreams for West End impresarios. Hollywood’s most imaginative directors would find difficulty in staging a more picturesque setting for the fourth derby meeting of a fairly topsy-turvy crusade.

The sun is shining, the skies are blue and cloudless, the Celtic Park playing surface  is a lush and inviting vivid green, a sell-out 60,000 crowd will be adding boisterous support and, of course, Callum McGregor looks to be back to his strutting, commanding, imperious best.

On either side of the captain, Reo Hatate and Matt O’Riley are performing at an assertive and masterful level that can reduce opponents to searching for the white flag of surrender long before the final shrill of the referee’s silver whistle.

Joe Hart is bowing out of the game he has graced for two decades with the sort of consistency befitting a much-decorated goalkeeper.

THE WAY AHEAD…Callum McGregor is back to his most commanding.

Cameron Carter-Vickers is doing what he does best as the immoveable rock in the centre of the rearguard while Kyogo Furuhashi emphasised he is one of the deadliest penalty-box predators in the business with two trademark lightning killer swoops in the 3-0 victory over Hearts at Parkhead a week ago.

James Forrest is sipping from the Fountain of Youth as he turns back the clock while the turbo-charged Daizen Maeda – James Tavernier’s worst nightmare – has looked out his jet-propelled heels and is eager for the 12.30pm kick-off.

Okay, dear reader, what can possibly go wrong? There’s a task to be met, a hurdle to clear and a challenge against city foes who will be determined not to be mere bit-part players in today’s theatre in the east end of Glasgow.

I doubt if there will be over-confidence within the ranks, but there is always that hellish element of surprise waiting to insulate itself upon an unsuspecting individual. That ghastly momentarily presence that can change the course of the game.

You only have to look at how the nasty gremlins invaded Bayern Munich keeper Manuel Neuer in the Bernabeu in midweek. The German club’s captain had given off unbeatable vibes in the Spanish capital as Real Madrid toiled 1-0 on the night and 3-2 on aggregate.

ON THE RUN…Daizen Maeda gets into his stride.

With two minutes of the regulation 90 to play, the Bavarians were on the brink of looking out their passports for the Champions League crescendo against compatriots Borussia Dortmund at Wembley in three weeks’ time.

At that fatal moment, though, Neuer, who had already produced three breathtaking saves to deny the hosts, inexplicably fumbled a shot from our old friend Vinicius Junior.

The attempt from the edge of the box carried all the threat of a tepid passbook, but one of the world’s greatest goalkeepers somehow fluffed his lines. The ball broke loose, Joselu, on the pitch for a mere seven minutes, swooped to equalise. A minute into added-on time, he repeated the feat and Neuer and his team-mates were fired into European oblivion.

That’s all it took. One incomprehensible error and the fine margin between success and failure was brutally emphasised.

Unless the demons descend mob-handed upon Paradise on this occasion, the Celtic players, fully focused and totally committed, will get the job done.

Go to it, lads!


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