SURELY, dear reader, it will not have escaped your attention that Celtic have led 2-0 on three separate occasions in the last three derby encounters.

Nor will it have done any of our central nervous systems any favours that Brendan Rodgers’ players have had to hang on to see out the remaining minutes of these successive duels.

Inexplicably, the champions have failed to throttle the resistance out of rivals who have been there for the taking. Bizarrely, we have practically presented oxygen and energy to our groggy, reeling city neighbours just when they are about to drop to their collective knees.

Look at Saturday, for instance. Philippe Clement’s side, tipped by some less-than-shrewd judges as champions-in-waiting, were face to face with oblivion after the hosts had planted the ball behind Jack Butland twice in the space of 35 mesmerising seconds.

MATT FINISH…midfielder Matt O’Riley runs away in triumph after scoring Celtic’s opening goal.

With the rafters about to be propelled towards the heavens, carried by the sheer volume of boisterous delight exhibited by 60,000 supporters in understandably high spirits, the visitors looked a tad disorientated. Let’s face it, you might feel a shade stupefied in similar circumstances.

So, what do Celtic do? What’s the game-plan to rev up the misery on deflated opponents? How much fun could we all have in the remaining 52 minutes-plus of a contest against adversaries, clearly befuddled and confused after twice being hit by football’s version of a wrecking ball?

Being the thoughtful and considerate hosts we are, Brendan’s Bhoys stepped aside and threw their foes a lifeline within two minutes of the lumbering John Lundstram’s panic-stricken own goal that added swiftly to Matt O’Riley’s masterful finish.

Fabio Silva managed to remain upright long enough to eliminate Alistair Johnston with a pass down the left wing to Borna Barisic, scampering free without the hinderance of a home player for company.

He pitched the ball to the far post, Dujon Sterling didn’t require the services of a tramploine to tower over Greg Taylor and he nodded the ball back into the danger zone.

OOPS…Jack Butland is left helpless after John Lundstram, with his head in his hands, deflects in a left-wing cross from Daizen Maeda.

I doubt if you could have got a sheet of the flimsiest A4 paper under the studs of the statusque Cameron Carter-Vickers and Liam Scales, both central defenders frozen in time, as Cyriel Dessers, disturbingly unmarked smack in front of goal, was gifted the freedom of the city to head past the stunned Joe Hart.

Any self-respecting defensive coach, forced to watch ceaseless reruns of the incident on a loop, would be left with no option but to throw himself in front of a speeding train to ease the pain. Okay, maybe that’s a bit over the top, but it did make for horrendous viewing.

Celtic cannot say they weren’t warned. Silva had already been allowed to wriggle in behind Johnston to slash an effort wide of the left-hand post and the Canadian right-back alarmingly displayed all the instincts of someone who had been introduced to football that morning when the over-priced Portuguese forward should have scored at a stage when the confrontation was still goalless.

Unforgivably, Johnston, a player I’ve liked since day one, committed the cardinal sin of not continually checking what was going on over his shoulder as play was being built on the opposite flank. He glanced once to see where Silva was and then went to sleep.

By the time Sterling had fired over a cross into the box, Silva was running in on the blindside with the Celt totally oblivious of his rival’s movement. Thankfully, the on-loan Wolves misfit bundled the ball wide of the upright from just a handful of yards.

Laughably, he then waved his arms around in time-honoured fashion as he claimed for a penalty-kick. Once again, a collision with fresh air had evidently been to blame for another botched job.

LONE RANGER…Cyriel Dessers scores past Joe Hart as Celtic defence falls asleep.

Rodgers’ men did respond to take control for all of two minutes before their rearguard malfunction invited their opponents back into the contest.

Big Phil has regaled us all with his brand of Belgian baloney since he arrived on these shores in mid-October, but the po-faced Govan guru was spot on when he declared afterwards: “We stayed in it until the last second of the game. Nobody in the stadium was relaxed until the end, but we couldn’t get it over the line.”

There may not have been distress flares blotting out the pleasant afternoon sun, but there was an anxiety overload until referee Willie Collum blew for time-up after seven interminable stoppage-time minutes.

There was way too much sloppy play from the home players until that welcoming shrill from the match official’s silver intrument. Celtic had chances against 10-man foes – with the blundering Lundstram invited to leave proceedings following a nonsensical and dangerous lunge on the unfortunate Johnston just before the interval – but the champions just couldn’t put the game to bed.

Daizen Maeda twice had the ball in the net only for both efforts to be correctly disallowed for offside. Adam Idah never looked convincing as he bore down on goal late on and finished tamely with a shot wide of the target with just Butland to beat.

And we haven’t even mentioned O’Riley’s fluffed penalty-kick.

PARADISE…Matt O’Riley and Callum McGregor embrace at full-time.

It’s also true that the Ibrox side only had one effort on target – their goal – so that might offer you the impression this was an angst-free episode for those of a Celtic persuasion. I can only confess it was far removed from relaxing from my vantage point.

There are some performers who could do with a crash course on how to pass the ball to someone wearing the same strip. There’s at least one individual who requires to be shown how to operate the complexities of taking a throw-in, preferably to a team-mate.

As was pointed out earlier, it was a lamentably similar story to the previous derby at Parkhead just before the turn of the year. Kyogo Furuhashi whipped in a breathtaking effort to double the team’s advantage after Paulo Bernardo’s explosive volley in the first-half.

Leon Balogun was red-carded after flooring the sprinting Maeda in the 71st minute. As the match ticked towards its conclusion, James Tavernier arced in a free-kick and the hosts had to fight a rearguard action throughout 10 minutes of added-on time before we could all breathe a bit more easily.

Last month, Maeda and O’Riley, with a penalty-kick that flummoxed Butland, had the visitors 2-0 ahead at half-time. However, before you could say “VAR Rangers penalty”, Clement’s title imposters were back in the competition with a Tavernier spot-kick and a deflected effort from Abdullah Sima.

Idah rifled the Hoops into the lead again, but the hosts were presented with a stoppage-time equaliser after Yang Hyun-jun demonstrated all the awareness of a drunken sailor to allow Rabbi Matondo to cut inside him and thump an angled drive past the helpless Hart.

Obviously, someone had forgotten to inform Celtic’s South Korean about the one trick the opposing winger posesses in his repertoire.

IRISH EYES ARE SMILING…Brendan Rodgers applauds the Celtic support after the crucial triumph.

I sincerely doubt that Brendan Rodgers frets incessantly about the situation, but it must surely be a concern that Celtic have not kept their foot on their opponent’s throat when they are on the point of surrender.

It’s not as though it would be undiscovered territory for the Irishman. In the space of a fortnight, back in 2018, the Hoops gaffer could stand back, fold his arms and admire his team in two meetings against the Ibrox team.

On April 15, the holders thrashed their opponents 4-0 in a one-sided Scottish Cup semi-final at Hampden. Two weeks later, the Hoops went one better in a 5-0 romp at Parkhead when the team scorched their way to a 49th Scottish crown.

There is still time this season to turn the clock back six years.

May I remind the Celtic manager of the little matter of a Scottish Cup Final against Clement’s team on the iconic date of May 25 at the national stadium?

It’s the perfect platform on a special day for the Celtic players to produce a kaleidoscope of their undoubted qualities to bring down the curtain on a rollercoaster campaign.

Plus I’m not certain your humble scribe’s old ticker can stand a succession of strenuous climaxes in these unique contests.


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