The closing 8 minutes against St Johnstone, after Nir Bitton put Celtic 1-3 ahead, allowed you and me, the manager and the players, to close out a game in a relaxed mood for the first time since the win over Dundee United seven games ago.
The intensity of Celtic’s games in recent months has seen wins over the Tayside trio of St Johnstone, Dundee United and Dundee provide the only relaxed closing moments in 14 games, 11 of which went into the final moment with points or a trophy on the line. Only twice in that run, at Leverkusen and Paisley, were Celtic denied a win, testament to their ability to get the job done when the chips are down.
There is more to our contagion of hamstring injuries than sheer workload, but we have to consider this factor in assessing why so many players are out with the same injury at the same time.
Hamstring injuries are a curse. I tore mine (right leg) well over a decade ago, it remains weaker than my left and probably always will be. The new Hibernian manager, Shaun Maloney, was robbed of unknown triumphs by the failure of his hamstring to fully heal. It is an injury that lies dormant, then cuts you down as though a sniper was on hand.
The first reaction to a hamstring injury is to check the warm-up. Muscles need to be carefully stretched before being asked to deliver explosive power. When an injury happens in the early stages of a game, or of the second half, as Kyogo’s did on Sunday, the warm-up is an obvious place to look, but I honestly doubt this is the case here. Celtic will be pouring over this issue, every detail will be examined, especially for Kyogo on Sunday.
What you cannot do midseason is set down a base layer of fitness. Players have to conserve energy in their legs, they do not have time to redevelop their muscle patterns, that is work that is done preseason, although a three week winter break permits a very short window of remedial work.
Preseason 2021-22 was not ideal at Lennoxtown. The players ended the previous season with no manager in place to lay down his requirements for preseason. When Ange Postecoglou was eventually appointed, he had to wait weeks before getting to work with the players, not to mention those he was working on signing.
None of this is easy to get right. Most Celtic players play international football, they usually get to two domestic cup finals, and the club play more European football than any other (it’s true, check it). All this, while competing until the final kick of the ball. Celtic are at the bleeding edge of fitness requirements for football players, the parts that bleed first are hamstrings.
It is up to the sports scientists to pioneer and find a fix for this, but the tools they work with leave them little scope until June next year.