CHRIS SUTTON has hit back at the critics who claim Celtic should not be awarded their ninth successive title.
The Hoops were sitting on top of the Premiership with a 13-point advantage and only eight games to play when football went into lockdown in mid-March due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The champions were zeroing in on their 51st flag in the club’s history after picking up momentum following the mid-winter break.
Celtic picked up 28 points from a possible 30 – their only hiccup coming in the 2-2 draw with Livingston in West Lothian – as they eyed yet another championship success.
Former £6million striker Sutton, now a media pundit, insisted his old club merited the honour after a rousing return to form following the turn of the year.
JUST CHAMPION…skipper Scott Brown and Mikael Lustig celebrate last season’s eight-in-a-row championship triumph.
The one-time England international, speaking in the Daily Record, said: “Neil Lennon and Celtic haven’t been handed the title. They won it themselves on the pitch.
“Anyone who argues differently on that score basically doesn’t know that much about football or is choosing to ignore the truth.
“Celtic won 26 out of 30 league games. If they had been able to finish the season, the chances are they would have extended their lead to about TWENTY points never mind being hauled back and caught by a Rangers team who had fallen to bits.
“These are the facts. Comments to the contrary are just grandstanding. An asterisk? Don’t be so disrespectful to Lennon or downright silly.
“The Parkhead boss came back from Dubai under extreme pressure to deliver.
“Lennon and his players were being asked a serious question in the title race at that midway stage with just a two-point lead over Rangers with their rivals having a game in hand.
“His response was to regroup the squad, rip up the system and go for a new-look dynamic 3-5-2 set-up and trust his serial winners to do what they do.
“The result of doing these things delivered the response to the challenge. Twelve domestic victories and one draw from 13 games.
“That two-point lead was extended to a 13-point lead in a timescale of less than two months through some splendid form at the business end of the season when their rivals couldn’t cope with the heat.
“Be honest here. If Lennon had come back from Dubai and turned in the identical domestic results that Steven Gerrard produced across the city, he would have been fighting for his job.
“If Lennon had dropped 13 points in five games to Hearts, Hamilton, Kilmarnock, St Johnstone and Aberdeen to fall 11 behind Rangers, he probably wouldn’t have survived.
“But the fact of the matter is he didn’t. He built on a strong first half to the season and ensured that the destination of the title was beyond doubt.
“Lennon’s team were absolutely flying at the time of the Covid-19 stoppage.”
TITLE WINNER…Neil Lennon is all smiles.
Sutton continued: “If anyone has a reasoned argument on how Celtic were going to collapse and squander such a healthy lead because a wobbling Ibrox team also suddenly rediscovered their form and won nine straight games, I’d love to hear it.
“I have heard plenty of unreasonable ones so far, but nothing which makes any sense. I’ve been speaking to a few of my old team-mates this week and we all agreed on one thing. If I was a Rangers player right now, I’d be absolutely raging.
“Not at the SPFL clubs or the decision to end the season, but the fact they allowed Celtic to run away from them. I’m not sure any season could ever be null and voided after 30 games, regardless of the monetary aspects which make it an absolute no-go in any case.
“But this would have been far tougher for anyone to make a call upon had Rangers managed to stay in the race.
“Look at Holland. Ajax and AZ were level on points. It was going to be done on goal difference. You can understand how that would have been unfair on the losers there. But in France it was relatively simple. Paris Saint-Germain were 12 points clear and the whole nation knew they were the best team.
“It is the same situation in Scotland. If Rangers had been a couple of points behind still they’d have had a solid case.
“Instead, they were blown away. They fell apart as Celtic got stronger. Anyone suggesting to the contrary is blinded by bias. Celtic were posed a question and they came up with the goods. The big players produced big performances when they were required to put the issue to bed, while their nearest challengers lost their way.
Sutton added: “Celtic stormed it. Two defeats in 30 games is worthy of any success and Lennon’s team were dynamic at times in the early and latter parts of the campaign, in particular.
“In winning those 26 out of 30 games, they hammered 89 goals. For context, last term when they won their eighth successive title, they only scored 77. And that was with the eight extra games.
“They proved on the park they are Scotland’s best team. And no one gave them their ninth-straight title. They won it.