EXACTLY a year ago, two goals -180 miles and around two hours and 20 minutes apart – were defining moments in propelling Ange Postecoglou’s Celtic towards an extraordinary title success.
Only the most optimistic Hoops fan would have dared to dream of the team even being in contention of being crowned champions after limping in the previous season an embarrassing and utterly unacceptable 25 points adrift in a futile, error-strewn pursuit of a historic tenth successive flag.
It was an inexplicable freefall into oblivion that cost Neil Lennon his job and saw the revamp of a squad who had performed so wretchedly throughout a humiliating, painful crusade.
THE EQUALISER…the Ibrox defence is in disarray as Matthew Wright claims Ross County’s stoppage-time goal.
And, yet, on the crisp afternoon of January 29 2022, the Hoops were afforded an opening to nudge closer to climbing back to the Premiership pinnacle for the first time in 18 agonising months.
A stoppage-time strike in Dingwall and a late winner in the east end of Glasgow suddenly added colour to a picture that had been a dismal grey just months earlier.
Imagine the scene:
Giovanni van Bronckhorst takes his league pacesetters to the Highlands to face Malky Mackay’s Ross County with a 12.30pm kick-off at the Global Energy Stadium.
The Ibrox side go into the match with a four-point advantage over nearest challengers Celtic.
GOODBYE, GIO…County boss Malky Mackay and opposite number Giovanni van Bronckhorst embrace after the dramatic 3-3 draw.
Amad Diallo, on loan from Manchester United, scores in only five minutes to push the visitors seven points ahead.
Amazingly, the hosts fight back to take a 2-1 interval lead with strikes from Jordan White and Regan Charles-Cook.
Four minutes into the second period, it’s 2-2 when James Tavernier equalises and it’s now a five-point lead.
Connor Goldson steers one home in 72nd minute after a goalmouth scramble and the visitors are 3-2 up and back to seven points of a lead over Postecoglou’s team.
Six minutes into stoppage-time, the Ibrox defenders fail to clear a left-wing corner-kick and Matthew Wright knocks in the equaliser from six yards. It ends all-square and Van Bronckhorst’s men travel back to Glasgow with a five-point advantage.
Celtic kick off against Dundee United at Parkhead at 3pm. They know exactly what they have to do to cut into the leaders’ points superiority.
They urgently require a win against stubborn opponents who held on for a 1-1 draw at the same ground in September. Astoundingly, the two dropped points that afternoon took the total shed by the Hoops to ELEVEN after only seven league games.
TROUBLE IN PARADISE…Ange Postecoglou sees a chance go abegging against Dundee United.
Three defeats at Tynecastle, Ibrox and Livingston and the stalemate against the Tannadice outfit ensured a tough baptism for Postecoglou in his new career in Glasgow.
However, the Greek-Australian gaffer had guided the team to 13 wins and two draws in 15 outings to get into a challenging position by the time January 29 2022 came around.
However, things are not going according to plan against the Tayside visitors. The home team are hammering away at their opponents’ goal, but, with keeper Benji Siegrist in inspired form, there is no breakthrough goal.
Ironically, Celtic’s best chances fall to Giorgos Giakoumakis, but the Greek striker, with only two league strikes to his name, is having a day when it looks as though he has put his boots on the wrong feet.
Postecoglou removes the Greek forward in the 83rd minute and throws on James McCarthy as he reshapes the line-up. He hands Filipe Jota a central attacking role alongside Liel Abada as he gives wide attacking roles to substitutes Josip Juranovic and Greg Taylor.
SEEING RED…Nir Bitton holds his head in his hands as he is sent off.
FIRING BLANKS…Giorgos Giakoumakis can’t believe he’s missed again.
The manager’s plans are thrown into disarray when Nir Bitton is red-carded 10 minutes from time by referee Euan Anderson for what CQN‘s match reporter terms “a ludicrous decision” by the match official.
However, bang on 90 minutes, Celtic eventually get the ball behind Siegrist. Juranovic surges forward before playing in Jota on the right. He whips over a cross to the back post to Abada who steadies himself before walloping a shot high into the net.
The Israeli winger is booked for removing his shirt as he joyously celebrates with the ecstatic home support.
Six minutes of stoppage-time is played, but the heroic 10 men stand firm to deliver the victory and the points gap is now two.
Celtic have the opportunity to take over leadership of the top flight when they fave Van Bronckhorst’s team at Parkhead in midweek.
Bizarrely, the BBC match reporter in Dingwall writes: “The impact of Diallo and return of Aribo certainly gives Rangers encouragement going forward before Wednesday’s derby with Celtic.”
CQN’s match reporter said: “Roll on Wednesday!”
THAT’S MY BHOY…Joe Hart hugs matchwinner Liel Abada at full-time.
SHAKE ON IT…Dundee United keeper Benji Siegrist, now at Celtic, offers his congratulations at the end.
THE START OF SOMETHING GOOD…Reo Hatate prepares to launch the opening goal against the Ibrox visitors in the 3-0 romp in Paradise.
Postecoglou said: “We understand that winning on Wednesday will put us in first position, but it doesn’t give us the trophy. Until we have the trophy in our hands we don’t stop.”
It’s in the history books now what happened that evening in the east end of Glasgow on February 2. Reo Hatate left Allan McGregor helpless with two excellent right-foot finishes and Abada claimed a third before half-time.
It remained 3-0 until the final whistle. Celtic were top of the league by a point – and they remained in pole position to win an extraordinary championship at the completion of a nerve-shredding campaign.
* DON’T miss the unbetable match report and best action images from Dundee United v Cetic this afternoon – only in your champion CQN.