NICOLAS KUHN would have been forgiven for wondering what he had signed up for when the final whistle sounded after his first Celtic appearance at Parkhead.
The shrill of referee Euan Anderson’s whistle was practically drowned out in an ear-splitting cacophony of boos and jeers from a section of the support after his side’s less-then-convincing exhibition in the 1-0 victory over Ross County.
German winger Kuhn, a £3million recruit from Rapid Vienna the previous week, would surely have been taken aback by the hostile reaction to his new team’s sixth successive win as Brendan Rodgers’ side restored their five-point advantage at the Premiership pinnacle, a position they have occupied since the first day of the current crusade.
Please remember, this is a team bidding for their twelfth crown in 13 years. By anyone’s standards that is a phenomenal sequence of sustained success.
WATCHING BRIEF…Brendan Rodgers looks on from the touchline as Celtic fail to ignite against Ross County.
Yes, there is no arguing the fact it was a perplexingly awful display against the Highlanders from a Celtic side virtually unrecognisable from the one that had performed so well and dominantly for most part in the derby encounter at the same venue 18 days earlier.
On that crisp afternoon in the east end of Glasgow, Kevin Clancy’s whistle after ten minutes of stoppage-time was greeted with joyous cheers. The delight was understandable after our noisy neighbours had been put in their place following preposterous claims of a “seismic shift” of power since Philippe Clement donned the brown brogues as successor to the hapless Michael Beale.
Accolades abounded throughout the stadium following a significant victory which will undoubtedly go a long way to the destination of the championship.
However, there was no hiding place in the same arena at the weekend when some followers made their thoughts known in a fairly raucous manner. They had just witnessed the champions toil in the final 15 minutes against a team that had been obliterated by second-tier Partick Thistle by three goals in the Scottish Cup in Dingwall the previous week.
Anxiety crept into every corner of the ground with the hosts on the back foot and it took a fine save from Joe Hart to deny the struggling visitors a late equaliser.
Images of the Motherwell match in November crept back into the consciousness of the apprehensive onlookers as their heroes appeared to be overwhelmed by an incomprehensible attack of jitters.
WELCOME TO CELTIC…Nicolas Kuhn is introduced to the supporters during half-time of the holders’ 5-0 Scottish Cup win over Buckie Thistle on January 21 – six days before his debut against Ross County.
None of this, of course, had been in the script a minute into the contest when Alistair Johnston’s deflected effort spun tantalisingly out of the reach of scrambling on-loan Fulham keeper George Wickens.
Luis Palma played his part in a memorable debut for the young Englishman by affording him the platform to make two penalty-kick saves after the Honduran had produced two back-to-back miserably tame efforts any self-respecting custodian would expect to repel.
Those abominable spot-kicks may have helped trigger the unease in the stands. It was the same Luis Palma who had failed with a spot-kick in the match against the Fir Park club two months earlier when he had another fairly tepid attempt pushed away by a relieved Liam Kelly.
On that occasion, after a staccato run-up that would surely have won a prize on Strictly, the winger produced another innocuous shot from 12 yards that lacked oomph or accuracy as the Well keeper moved to his right to push the ball for a corner-kick. It was deja-vu all over again against Ross County.
Back in November, Palma’s wastefulness – and the general all-round lack of cohesion among his team-mates as the confrontation neared its conclusion – was punished when the visitors bundled in a late leveller following some alarmingly inept defending at a left-wing corner-kick.
PUZZLED…Alistair Johnston looks towards the stands after his first goal of the season has given the champions a narrow win over Ross County at Parkhead.
Two points thrown away at a careless stroke. So, the feeling of dread and trepidation engulfing the stadium against Derek Adams’ workmanlike side was understandable. No-one of a Celtic persuasion, including your humble scribe, could have felt a scintilla of comfort until the referee mercifully brought the match to a halt via his little silver instrument.
What followed, though, was regrettable. Everyone has the inalienable right to voice an opinion. We all acknowledge and accept that fact. On occasion, it is difficult in the extreme to keep those feelings under control. We all understand that. Tolerance, though, does seem to be in remarkably short supply these days.
The supporters had witnessed their favourites grimly seeing out the 90-plus minutes for victory against lesser opponents. In a boxing analogy, it would have been like viewing Muhammad Ali, in his glorious hey-day, holding onto the ropes and taking a pummelling from a nobody before the final bell.
Celtic’s display against County wasn’t easy on the eye, that’s for sure. No argument.
However, contrast it with events in Paisley earlier in the day. The champions’ nearest challengers hoofed the ball hither and yon as they protected a one-goal advantage. Their best player without a doubt was goalkeeper Jack Butland who made three top saves while St Mirren also squandered a few reasonable openings that came their way.
The final peep of match official David Dickinson’s whistle produced much singing, dancing, hugging and merriment among the visiting throng. Clearly, it was all about the three points.
At Celtic Park, after an identical result, the immediate aftermath emphasised the disparity in emotions. The response was stark and more than a little disturbing and it’s obvious there is disharmony among a group of the club’s followers who never miss the opportunity to let the world know of their displeasure.
Understandably, expectation levels in the east end of the city are higher than elsewhere and that is because the team and players have set exceptional standards. Alas, we don’t live in Utopia and the lack of perfection is something we have to accept.
If I may make an observation to Mr Angry in Row E. Every syllable of screeching criticism, every iota of vociferous condemnation is simply music to the ears of others.
Please deny them that pleasure.