LAST weekend, to keep ourselves amused during the boring days of the winter break, we looked back in the first half of the season, covering July to end November. We planned to add a review of December but other things cropped up, you know how it is.
Anyway here’s what happened in December…
A GENUINE test of the quality, strength and durability of Brendan Rodgers’ squad was presented in December.
The Hoops went into the month before the winter break facing nine games – including a Champions League encounter against Manchester City – in the most punishing, exacting schedule in living memory.
When the dust had settled the Premiership were unbeaten, winning eight successive domestic games and drawing the European confrontation at The Etihad.
It was a remarkable and praiseworthy achievement by the Hoops.
The trek kicked off at Fir Park on Saturday, December 3 and Celtic underlined their astonishing courage and never-say-die spirit by coming back from two goals adrift at the interval to win 4-3.
Craig Gordon had gone eight Scottish matches on the spin without conceding a goal. That was shattered in the early minutes when Louis Hoult scooped an effort over his head after the defence had parted as a through ball dropped into the penalty area.
Before the interval, Hoult had doubled his side’s advantage when Kolo Toure failed to cut out a left-wing cross and the frontman was left unguarded at the far post to tuck the ball away.
Were Celtic about to lose their unbeaten domestic record? Only Inverness Caley Thistle had spoiled their 100 per cent success rate with a stoppage-time equaliser in the 2-2 draw on September 18.
The visiting fans were treated to an amazing response from their heroes in the following 45 minutes.
Three minutes after the turnaround, Callum McGregor had struck the first and Patrick Roberts – with a rare header – equalised in the 70th minute.
Unbelievably, Mark McGhee’s men took the lead again within 60 seconds. A left-wing cross found Lionel Ainsworth unmarked and he rifled a drive beyond the helpless Gordon. It was a blow that could have sunk the Celts. Not this Celtic, though.
It was all-square again inside a minute when Stuart Armstrong swivelled to tuck a low effort wide of Craig Samson.
The Hoops pummelled forward in search of the winner and it was Wizard of Oz Tom Rogic who provided another touch of magic as he cut in from the left to drill a low effort into the far corner in the fading moments.
Rodgers said aftewards: “We were poor in the first-half and got off to an awful start.
“We changed the system at half-time to 3-4-3 and we were absolutely brilliant in the second-half.
“Across the team, I have to give them huge credit because we had to put risk in the game. They took on the risk and they got their reward.”
Next up three days later, was the little matter of the final Champions League game of the season and, once again, Rodgers’ team were impressive.
Wily winger Roberts, facing his parent club, gave his Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola something to think about when he drifted in from the right to smash a low shot into the net to give Scottish kings the advantage early on.
Unfortunately, the Hoops couldn’t build on his goal and the home side, as they had done three times at Parkhead in September in the 3-3 stalemate, levelled only moments later and the visitors brought down the curtain on Europe with a 1-1 draw. It was far from a disgrace.
Three days later at Firhill, the rejuvenated Armstrong netted twice as Partick Thistle were put to the sword, going down 4-1. Leigh Griffiths and McGregor added the others against a gallant Maryhill outfit.
And it was Griffiths, with a typical effort, who handed Celtic their next victory over Hamilton Accies 1-0 in the east end of Glasgow four days later.
On Saturday, December 17, it was another tight winning margin as Dundee were seen off 2-1 with Griffiths getting the opener. Nir Bitton produced a composed finish with a measured 18-yard drive in at the corner for what turned out to be the winning goal.
Three hectic days later, Scott Sinclair was the matchwinner against Thistle as Rodgers’ men racked up their fifth consecutive domestic victory in their exhausting countdown to the turn of the year.
Hamilton Accies again provided the opposition at the SuperSeal Stadium on December 24 where a 10-man Celtic team had to dig deep to chalk up another victory.
The Hoops were already leading after an Armstrong shot exploded into the top corner when the unlucky McGregor was sent off in controversial fashion. Referee Willie Collum wasn’t interested in protests as he produced a second yellow card.
Hopes of the Accies producing a sensation were dynamited when Griffiths netted a second and substitute Moussa Dembele tapped in a third to complete the scoring.
So far, so good.
Ross County resistance was obliterated by two late first-half goals with Danish defender Erik Sviatchenko getting the ball rolling – just about literally.
The centre-half broke forward and, as the Highlanders backed off, he struck a long-range effort that bamboozled County keeper Scott Fox and swept low into the corner.
Armstrong made certain with a clever strike before half-time and the scoreline didn’t change in the second period as Celtic prepared for a Hogmanay visit to Ibrox.
Mark Warburton’s side took a shock 12th-minute lead through a Kenny Miller tap-in, but it wasn’t too long before Dembele, claiming his fifth goal against the Govan side, battered a pulverising shot into the roof of the net for the leveller following a left-wing corner-kick from Sinclair.
Celtic took control after the interval and could have scored four goals in the first 15 minutes of the restart with Dembele coming closest with an acrobatic effort that bounced up crazily in front of the baffled Wes Foderingham and smacked against the crossbar.
Sinclair had earlier been out of luck with a low drive that thumped against the inside of the post and was booted clear.
However, in the 70th minute, the Englishman, bought by Rodgers for £4.5million in the summer, hit the matchwinner.
The ever-impressive Armstrong ran onto an astute pass from substitute Roberts and switched it across the face of the goal.
Sinclair’s timing was impeccable as he raced in behind the Ibrox defence to slot in from close range.
It was Celtic’s 15th successive Premiership triumph. Happy New Year!
A beaming Rodgers revealed he had heaped praise on his men in the dressing room in the moments ahead of kick-off.
He admitted: “I thanked them before the game on behalf of myself as manager and on behalf of the supporters for playing how they have been playing for a magnificent club and how they have got themselves on a real exciting path going forward.
“We’ve played Champions League and have won the League Cup.
“We’ve done it showing an incredible resilience that we have tried to foster, so that you are never beaten, you go right to the end, irrespective of what the result was today.
“It has been a huge achievement for them, especially this month’s nine games which everyone talked about.
“To have won eight of those, and drawn away at Manchester City in the Champions League, I think everyone would commend them for what a great effort it has been.
“So, now we go away to rest for a week and then we come back together and will work very hard for a couple of weeks in making things better and, hopefully, in the second half of the season we will be even stronger.”
And it all starts again in the Scottish Cup fourth round tie against Albion Rovers at Airdrie Excelsior Stadium tomorrow afternoon.
There’s still time to take advantage of the great offer we are running on CQNBookstore.com at the moment. Buy Hoops Stars and Stripes – The Andy Lynch Story and get Charlie Gallagher? What a Player! for FREE and both books will be signed for you by the former Celtic stars, one a former captain and the other a Lisbon Lion!