GORDON STRACHAN has issued a stirring message to Celtic: “You cannot give up on the title.”
The defiant former Hoops manager has urged Neil Lennon and his beleaguered players to maintain their focus as the champions see their bid for a historic tenth successive championship come off the rails.
Only two days into 2021, the Parkhead side found themselves 19 points adrift of Steven Gerrard’s outfit following the unlucky and frustrating 1-0 loss in Ibrox where the fates conspired to send the visitors to defeat.
Lennon’s men dominated for over an hour, but just could not get their rewards in front of goal. Everything changed with Nir Bitton’s rash rugby tackle on Alfredo Morelos in the 62nd minute and then the freak deflection off Callum McGregor for the only goal of the game eight minutes later.
LAST POST…Allan McGregor touches Leigh Griffiths’ early shot onto the upright.
OWN GOAL…Callum McGregor deflects the corner-kick into the Celtic net.
DISBELIEF…Neil Lennon watches Celtic miss another opportunity.
Celtic received the sympathy, but their opponents picked up the points from what was seen as a must-win encounter for the reigning title kings.
Strachan, who won three successive championships as Bhoys’ boss from 2006 to 08, told Football Pass: “You cannot give up on the title, that’s for sure.
“If I was the Celtic manager I would be saying: ‘Come on, let’s try and make them a bit worried. It is 19 points. Can we get it down to nine? Or seven maybe by mid-March?
“And that would make them worried, just a wee bit. That’s the only thing you can do at the minute, is make them worried. You can’t say to the players: ‘Let’s claw back 19 points, lads’.
“But can we claw back 11? We might do, because we have three games in hand, they drop points…there’s a chance. The Rangers camp will then go: ‘Well, just a second, could I be the manager/coaching staff/player who throws away this huge lead?’
“And that’s all that Celtic have got to hang on to at the moment.”
READ ALL ABOUT IT…Alex Gordon’s latest Celtic book, ’50 Flags Plus One’.
Strachan can back up his words with deeds. In season 2007/08, Celtic had been written off after falling six points behind Walter Smith’s Rangers side who also had two extra matches to play – and a potential six points – to take them out of sight.
However, the ebullient manager rallied his players and led the Parkhead club to their forty-second championship success in their glorious history – and he joined the legendary Willie Maley and Jock Stein as Celtic managers to win three consecutive flags.
Author Alex Gordon recalls the dramatic campaign in his latest Celtic book, ’50 Flags Plus One’, when the team clawed their way back from the brink to claim the ultimate prize.
The team sealed an extraordinary fightback to beat Dundee United 1-0 at Tannadice on the unforgettable evening of April 23 2008. It was an encounter they had to win with the Ibrox side playing Aberdeen at Pittodrie the same night.
A slip from the Hoops would have let in their Glasgow rivals, but the crown was secured with a thumping header from powerhouse Dutchman Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink to give the team the victory they required and so richly merited.
Both clubs had gone into their final league confrontations tied on 86 points. The 38th league game would bring to a conclusion a nine-month campaign that had seen two of football’s greatest rivals engaged in an intriguing and nerve-gnawing neck-and-neck pursuit for the silverware with the finishing line now in plain sight.
It had been widely anticipated goal difference would be required to settle the issue. Celtic were four goals to the good while Rangers were aware what was required against Aberdeen.
With 45 minutes of the league season to play, both games were balanced at 0-0. Eighteen minutes into the second-half, a yell of sheer delirium bellowed from the Celtic supporters; news had been relayed Lee Miller had just put the Dons ahead.
In the 72nd minute, Paul Hartley swirled in a corner from the left with measured perfection. Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink’s timing of his sprint into the danger zone and his leap above friend and foe were equally immaculate. The ball crashed off his forehead from six yards smack in front of goal and the whizzing sphere bulged the net behind a petrified Lukasz Zaluska.
The destination of the title was never in doubt from that precise moment.
Tannadice was engulfed in joyous ferment and there was more bedlam when it became known Darren Mackie had thrashed in a second goal for Aberdeen.
It had been a truly astonishing climax. Seven weeks earlier, Celtic had lost 1-0 to Motherwell at Parkhead, sliding six points behind their Ibrox foes who had two games in hand.
Strachan accepted the criticism and, blessed with an unyielding backbone, refused to fold. If the relentless questioning of his managerial qualities had affected him or his strength of character, it had been impossible to detect.
Only seven games were left to play, but Strachan managed the feat and swung the championship in the direction of the east end of Glasgow.
He rightly took his place alongside club giants Willie Maley and Jock Stein for his remarkable achievement.
As the players and fans celebrated Celtic’s forty-second championship, Gordon Strachan drew breath and summed up: “I’m with a bunch of guys who believed in me and I believed in them.
“I really do believe this is one the most satisfying nights of my life.”
The thrilling 2007/08 campaign is told with insider knowledge by Alex Gordon, veteran of fifteen Celtic books, and the latest publication is acclaimed by Lisbon Lion Bertie Auld as “a truly unique tribute to Celtic”.
* ‘CELTIC: 50 Flags Plus One’ celebrates the club’s remarkable fifty-one league championships in their glorious history. To order a copy – and get a FREE book, ‘Seville: The Celtic Movement’ – please go to: ‘CELTIC: 50 Flags Plus One’.