FORMER Celtic boss Davie Hay knows exactly the pressure that is on Brendan Rodgers as the champions continue the Premiership countdown against St Johnstone at Parkhead tomorrow afternoon.

With nine games to play, the Hoops are two points adrift of Philippe Clement’s Ibrox outfit, but have the opportunity to go one ahead if they take care of business against Craig Levein’s Perth side.

The Govan club, who crashed out of Europe last night with a 1-0 home loss to Benfica, are scheduled to play Dundee at Dens Park at noon on Sunday.

Hay has experienced the strain of a situation when his team is trailing with the coveted silverware coming into focus.

In season 1985/86, with nine games to go, the club’s legendary player and manager saw his team three points behind Hearts in the days when you got two points for a win.

In another CQN EXCLUSIVE, Hay, speaking to his long-time friend and author Alex Gordon, who co-wrote the icon’s best-selling autobiography, ‘The Quiet Assassin‘, recalled the stress and burden of steering Celtic through an epic battle for the crown in one of the most nerve-racking crescendos to any season in the club’s history.

The Parkhead great said: “We had already been written off by many so-called experts, but I did not for one moment concede our chance of the championship had gone.

“I am not being wise after the event. I remember talking to the press after our second last game of the season, a 2-0 win over Motherwell at Fir Park. Hearts were two points ahead and were due to play at Dundee while we were scheduled to meet St Mirren at Love Street on the same day, both matches kicking off at 3pm.

“I told the press guys we would definitely win our game and I emphasised we would score enough goals to achieve our target if goal difference came into play. That was the best we could hope for.

“The Tynecastle side didn’t have to win at Dens Park, a draw would have given them the flag. That was the simple equation. The demands were obvious and I was utterly convinced we would win in my home town of Paisley.

COOLEST GUY IN TOWN…laidback Davie Hay remains calm as Danny McGrain, Bobby Lennox and club masseurJimmy Steele get ready to party in Paisley in May 1986.

“I remember one of the newspaper guys, Jack Adams of the Daily Record, pulling me aside at the end of the aftermatch meeting. Jack wanted to know if I really believed what I had been saying. He asked the question with a knowing wink. I liked the newspaperman and I realised he just wanted something off the record.

“I repeated what I had said. I firmly believed Celtic would win that title. Bravado? Possibly. One thing I was convinced of, though, is that I had to make sure my players felt the same way.

“At the same time, I had to make certain the pressure remained on Hearts. I could see the stress factor was building on the Edinburgh club and it was my job to make sure it was unrelenting.

“They had lost a bit of their gloss, but were grinding out results. The performances didn’t matter a jot as long as they scored one goal more than their opponents.

WE’RE ON OUR WAY…Brian McClair leaves St Mirren keeper Jim Stewart helpless as he celebrates scoring the first of Celtic’s five goals in Paisley on a memorable title-winning afternoon in 1986.

“I detected a hint of desperation coming from a corner of the capital. They were making all the right noises which may have fooled some people, but I wasn’t buying into it. I wasn’t about to concede anything until it was mathematically impossible for Celtic to get our hands on that silverware.

“We won 5-0 on an unforgettable afternoon in Paisley, Hearts lost 2-0 in Dundee and the rest, as they say, is history; glorious, wonderful history.”

Does Hay see parallel lines in the neck-and-neck race between Rodgers and Clement this time around?

“They are similar, that’s for sure,” answered the former team chief. “There’s been a vast improvement at my club’s old foes. The new manager has made a difference, no argument.

“He has found a system that suits his players and he has elevated their work ethic since his arrival in October.

“Of course, he deserves praise for what he has achieved, it would be churlish to deny him that acclaim, but that’s as far as it goes. Back in 1986, two former Rangers players were sharing the managerial duties at Hearts, Alex MacDonald was the boss and Sandy Jardine, who was still turning out at right-back, was his assistant.

“Those were two individuals who knew how to coax and cajole the best out of the playing staff. They had the experience of winning titles during their days at Ibrox.

“I can think of only two players – ex-Celtic centre-back Roddie MacDonald and ex-Rangers striker Sandy Clark – as two of their players who understood the demands to overcome the stress factor and actually win a flag.

TITLE WINNER 1979…Roy Aitken races away in triumph after scoring one of Celtic’s goals in the remarkable 4-2 championship triumph over Rangers at Parkhead – seven years before he achieved the same feat against St Mirren. George McCluskey is about to join in while Ibrox duo Derek Johnstone and Peter McCloy experience that sinking feeling.

“I had the likes of Danny McGrain, Roy Aitken, Paul McStay, Murdo MacLeod, Tommy Burns and Pat Bonner among others who had actually achieved the feat.

“Even Mark McGhee, the frontman I brought in from SV Hamburg during the campaign, had won league medals with Aberdeen.

“Today’s Celtic squad has a manager in Brendan who has already picked up two along with so many of the squad who have been involved in several of the club’s eleven championships over the past 12 years.

“There’s James Forrest, for a start, who has won an astonishing ELEVEN while Callum McGregor has lifted eight. You cannot buy that experience.

“There is no-one at Ibrox who can come anywhere near those two hauls. Off the top of my head, I can mention James Tavernier and Connor Goldson, but there won’t be too many others who have achieved success at the very pinnacle of a league season.

“That will undoubtedly count with only nine games to go.”

* TOMORROW: Don’t miss another great EXCLUSIVE from club legend Davie Hay as he gives his forthright views on Brendan Rodgers’ Celtic – only in your champion CQN.

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