Despite winning at the home of their Glasgow opponents, Celtic went into October’s international break two points behind rivals Sevco in the Scottish Premiership. It was an unfamiliar place for these perennial winners from Parkhead to find themselves in.
Defeat at relatively lowly Livingston followed being held by Hibernian – too close to the relegation places for comfort in Edinburgh – and it was the first real blip since Neil Lennon returned as Bhoys’ boss replacing Brendan Rodgers in February.
If you looked at how Celtic closed out things out then, admittedly with another title triumph sewn up, the signs of these poor recent results were there. Other than Sevco, who won the final Glasgow battle of the previous campaign long after the Premiership ceased to be a contest, the last domestic teams to take league points off the Hoops were Hibs and Livingston.
This is a club with eight titles in a row and the unprecedented ‘Treble-Treble’ under its belt. It’s no wonder bookmakers and online betting sites like 888Sport still make Celtic 13/20 odds-on favourites to retain their crown and deliver nine consecutive Premierships to the Parkhead trophy cabinet.
That market confidence in the Bhoys comes from them being course and distance winners to borrow a horse racing term. There are plenty of names in that dressing room who know what is required to be champions of Scotland.
Guarding against complacency is a start. Celtic haven’t maintained that iron grip on silverware in Scottish soccer in recent years without addressing below par performances, and quickly.
Anyone with even a passing interest in football can tell you the Premiership is far from the strongest league in the world. The English equivalent seemingly has Liverpool – forever linked to the Hoops by that iconic sporting anthem, You’ll Never Walk Alone – already marching towards triumph based on the way they have started.
That is 30 years in the making on Merseyside. Celtic have even eclipsed the last Liverpool team that dominated south of the border. Only Juventus, the Old Lady of Italy, have matched the eight titles on the spin this decade in a major European league.
Now it is set to be cat and mouse with Rangers, who are priced in at 5/4. Maybe dropping points is little more than a storm in a teacup for Lennon, as victory over Ross County after the international break puts the Bhoys back on their lofty perch.
Sevco will then have the chance to respond and so it may go on. This is what many Celtic fans both want and fear at the same time – their Old Firm opposition not only credible but competitive, so that final victory is sweeter and somehow more legitimate by defeating true challengers.
It’s a classic case of being careful what you wish for, though, because you just might get it. Rangers manager Steven Gerrard is arguably destined for an eventual return to Anfield where he rocked the Kop as player, captain and – that often-overused term – icon.
Current Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp has already given his backing to Steven Gerrard as his eventual successor. The question is whether Gerrard will go back to Merseyside from Ibrox having dethroned Celtic?
Until now that’s not something which has looked likely, but all periods of dominance and dynasties – through Lennon, Ronny Deila, Rodgers and now Lennon again – end. Everyone in the East End of Glasgow is sure that is not just yet.