IT was an exhilarating five-star, five-goal performance from Celtic who brought the curtain down on a fourth successive SPFL title victory in commanding fashion at Parkhead.
John Hughes’ Highlanders were nonchalantly swept aside in a one-sided confrontation where Craig Gordon could have taken a deckchair into his goalmouth and caught up with his reading. Yes, it was that one-sided.
The Hoops opened the scoring in the fifth minute and that was the signal for an onslaught on Ryan Esson’s goal as the bombardment lasted for another 85 or so minutes.
Remarkably, Caley Thistle escaped another blatant handball, but, thankfully, it didn’t matter as much in the controversial Scottish Cup semi-final that wrecked Ronny Deila’s attempt at a clean sweep in his first season in Scottish football.
At Hampden, it was Josh Meekings who punched away a header from Leigh Griffiths. On this occasion, it was Danny Williams who turned a goalbound header from Virgil van Dijk past the post.
Unbelievably, match official Kevin Clancy was satisfied with awarding Celtic a corner-kick. It was clearly a hand ball with Williams’ arms in an unnatural position. He should have seen red, too.
We’re beginning to get the impression that Hughes can bring down a basketball team to play Celtic and not get punished when they handle the ball in the penalty area.
However, there was just no stopping Deila’s men as they stormed forward in numbers with everyone wanting to put on a show for the fans who, as ever, were superb in their backing of their favourites throughout another title party in the east end of Glasgow.
The barrier-breaking goal arrived early when Stefan Johansen, who eased and teased his way through another inspirational 90 minutes, floated over a delightful hanging free-kick to the back post.
Van Dijk climbed the highest to knock a header across goal. Nir Bitton and Stefan Scepovic, making his first start since January, went for it and both claimed a goal. It looked as though the Serb might just have got the last touch to take his goal tally to five for the term.
In the 18th minute, Johansen doubled masterful Celtic’s advantage. Stuart Armstrong and Scott Brown combined to free Emilio Izaguirre, galloping menacingly down the left.
He tricked his way past two challenges and picked out Johansen who clipped a left-foot effort past the stranded Esson for his 13th strike of a prolific campaign.
It was all one-way traffic at the start of the second-half, too, and Armstrong should have scored nine minutes after the turnaround when James Forrest set him up smack in front of goal.
The elegant midfielder, completely unmarked, blazed wildly over the crossbar when it looked impossible not to at least hit the target.
He was replaced by Kris Commons in the 68th minute with Charlie Mulgrew also coming on for Adam Matthews.
In the 70th minute Scepovic claimed the third – and this time there was no doubt it was his goal.
Johansen sent Forrest scampering into the box on the left and the winger sizzled over a low cross for the striker to convert with ease at the far post.
His hopes of a hat-trick were dashed, though, when he made way for Leigh Griffiths seven minutes later.
And the busy frontman took only three minutes to slot in No.4 in fine fashion after a wonderfully-paced pass from Commons. Griffiths took a touch, steadied himself and then lashed an unstoppable angled drive low into the net for his 20th of the season.
And, nearing stoppage time, Izaguirre set up Commons in a favourite position just outside the box. The Caley defenders backed off and the former Scottish international whizzed a right-foot effort into the net. It was his 16th of the season – half of the total he collected in the last campaign.
No-one was complaining, though, as the final whistle blew and it was another Green Party at Parkhead.
Skipper Brown lapped it up and declared: “We won the title because we are the best team. As simple as that. We deserved the success. Ten in a row? Who knows? Certainly, there’s a lot more to come from this team and I want to play my part.”
TEAM: Gordon; Matthews (sub: Mulgrew 68), Denayer, Van Dijk, Izaguirre; Brown, Bitton; Forrest, Johansen, Armstrong (sub: Commons 68); Scepovic (sub: Griffiths 77).
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