Such was Newco’s run of form going into the winter break, they had not dropped points since the last time they met Aberdeen, in October. Celtic drew two league games in the intervening period, stretching the gap at the top of the table from two to six points. We needed a break and on Tuesday the evergreen Scott Brown delivered again.
After crucial wins at Easter Road and Tynecastle last month, Newco’s façade cracked. They remain in the driving seat, Celtic have little margin for error, but we are in the familiar position of asking who will recover best after the winter break. Newco’s form in this respect is not good. They cracked two years ago, when Celtic put pressure on them (and won last year under no pressure). Aberdeen’s equaliser turned the screw sufficiently to draw their first domestic red card in what amounts to 21.8% of their history. They must be a very clean team. Or a very fortunate one. European referees awarded four red cards in that period in a fraction of the games played.
Dropping points to Aberdeen, who remain sixth in the table, is more a sign of mental fragility than sporting deficit. Between the two Aberdeen games, Newco won away at higher-placed Motherwell, Hibs and Hearts, scoring nine and conceding only once in the process. That is championship winning form. Even a poor Aberdeen, though, bring Newco out in a sweat rash. The prospect of Celtic Park under the lights with an exclusive home crowd looms.
You know the script, when you are winning, every game in winnable, when you are not winning, every game is a minefield. The next two weeks are as much about confidence as talent. In that respect, the steady influx of new signings at Lennoxtown is invaluable. All a consequence of the value achieved from a squad that won nothing last season, but we will explore that issue later.
A word on Scott Brown. His legs had gone, that’s not in dispute, but a generation of Celtic managers loved him for how he got the team over the line. His drive and devilment is still there.