THE Premiership was a blank canvas back on the morning of August 5 when I stated “trembling thumbs are hovering in the proximity of panic buttons” down Govan way.
I mentioned there was anxiety mixed with dread among the Ibrox ranks and adverse results would in all likeilihood provoke a brutal knee-jerk reaction from the club’s panicking powerbrokers.
Trust me, it was not mere wishful thinking on behalf of your humble scribe. I was well aware of nervous tension parked in heavy clouds hovering over the south side of Glasgow. From the information that was coming my way, it was obvious it wouldn’t take much to trigger a violent backfire if the jigsaw failed to come together pronto.
The reason for the hyper apprehension among the hierarchy was quite simple – Brendan Rodgers. I said in this column over two months ago – and without a league ball being kicked in anger – that our city neighbours were running scared of Celtic’s second time-around manager.
PARADISE…Brendan Rodgers is back in charge of Celtic after winning seven successive domestic honours during his first successful spell.
After three reversals in seven league games, Michael Beale, not even a year in the post, was jettisoned. Unfortunately for the gobby Englishman, one of those defeats was against the champions at a 50,000 sell-out partisan stadium on a day when there was neither sight nor sound of a visiting fan.
Celtic, we were assured, were there for the taking. I admit to more than a smidgen of concern. The team, with a handful of untested summer arrivals likely to be utilised, were going into a toxic cauldron on the back of two games without a goal, the 1-0 Viaplay League Cup exit at Kilmarnock and the home Premiership stalemate against rock-bottom St Johnstone.
There was also the headache of piecing together a central defence without the team’s rock, Cameron Carter-Vickers, out with a muscular problem. Likewise, Maik Nawrocki, the £4.3million summer recruit from Legia Warsaw, was sidelined. Even Nat Phillips, hurriedly signed on a short-term loan from Liverpool, was carrying an ankle injury and wasn’t risked in the matchday squad.
Carl Starfelt’s last action as a Celt was to divert a Ross County shot past Joe Hart on the opening day of the league campaign before his adventure d’amour took him to Spain and Celta Vigo.
So, Rodgers wasn’t afforded too many options as he gave the green light to Gustaf Lagerbielke, newly arrived from Elfsborg, and Liam Scales, a player many thought would have been lining up in the north east of the country for a second spell with Aberdeen.
GOVAN GLEE…Kyogo Furuhashi volleys in the only goal of the game at Ibrox last month with John Souttar and Connor Goldson getting a close-up view.
On the substitutes’ bench at Ibrox last month and providing cover was Yuki Kobayashi, a youngster who endured a torrid 90 minutes-plus at the same venue in May when the visitors lost 3-0 in a confrontation where only pride was at stake.
That couldn’t mask the fact the Japanese prospect had been bullied into submission by ruthless opponents who sensed fear, a point made by Stiliyan Petrov in his succinct aftermatch summary.
Rodgers may have been elsewhere that forgettable afternoon, but you better believe he would have been well aware of how the Celtic players performed – or, in most cases, underperformed – in that embarrassing spectacle, irrespective of the club’s eleventh title in 12 years being annexed the previous weekend with a 2-0 triumph over Hearts at Tynecastle.
Basically, the Irishman could select a partnership of Lagerbielke and Scales or Scales and Lagerbielke. There was no choice.
Beale and his cohorts were tuned into their rivals’ pre-match consternation and were mercilessly prepared to zero in on Celtic’s supposed Achilles’ Heel. In the midst of a turbulent, hostile atmosphere, they smelled blood.
Boss Rodgers, skipper Callum McGregor and his mates weren’t following the script and Kyogo Furuhashi volleyed in a spectacular matchwinner.
SILENCE IS GOLDEN…Kyogo Furuhashi celebrates his strike with his Celtic team-mates as Ibrox is struck dumb.
The final whistle was greeted by a ferocious cacophony of boos and jeers, the sheer volume of bitterness and resentment reverberating around every corner of the ground.
From that moment, Beale was a dead man walking. It was only a matter of time before he was handed the blindfold and led off to oblivion.
As he squirmed through his team’s 3-1 home loss to Aberdeen in the seventh league game to be cast seven points adrift of Rodgers’ Celtic, he must have heard the firing squad being summoned somewhere beneath the stands.
The decision-makers, who booted Giovanni van Bronckhorst to make way for Steven Gerrard’s former right-hand man, must have jostled for position to be the first to plunge their thumb on the panic button.
The Ibrox gaffers may be gifted enough perception to comprehend a defeat in the east end of the city on December 30 may see them ushered into 2024 with the club forced to abandon any shred of pretence of winning the championship.
It’s hardly outwith the bounds of expectation that Celtic, by that stage, will be easing towards the 54th crown in their history.
That being the case, the latest occupant of the dug-out of the club that resides across the River Clyde may just detect gallows being erected not too far from where he is sitting.
I doubt if the panic button will be going into retirement any time soon.