CELTIC ended a truly memorable campaign by going through the 47-game domestic season unbeaten, winning 43 of the confrontations. Rightly, they earned the title of ‘The Invincibles’.
Today, in Part Four of CQN’s EXCLUSIVE extracts of Alex Gordon’s publication ‘CELTIC: The History Bhoys’, we look at Six of the Best as the Hoops whirlwind swept through Scottish football.
HAIL THE DEBUT HERO…Scott Sinclair after his winning goal against Hearts.
HEARTS 1 CELTIC 2 (August 7, 2016)
THE Celtic support swiftly understood why Brendan Rodgers had been so determined in his quest to sign his former Swansea City player Scott Sinclair. One look at the flamboyant attacker was all it took.
The Parkhead manager had tracked the left-sided raider for about a month before he finally got his man with Aston Villa accepting a fee that would rise to £4.5million with add-ons. Money well spent, declared the champions’ followers in the near-17,000 Tynecastle crowd after witnessing Sinclair in action for under half-an-hour.
The Englishman only agreed the deal the previous afternoon and Celtic rushed through his registration to make sure he was eligible to play against the Edinburgh side. Rodgers left him on the subs’ bench at the start, but he replaced Stuart Armstrong in the sixty-first minute with the score stalemated at 1-1.
Rodgers applauded his side’s first goal in the Premiership in the eighth minute when Callum McGregor was sent spinning under a challenge and the ball broke to James Forrest. Without breaking stride, the winger struck the ball with the outside of his right foot from the edge of the box and his screamer left Jack Hamilton helpless low to his right.
ONE DOWN AND THIRTY-SEVEN TO GO…Brendan Rodgers celebrates his first Premiership win as Celtic boss.
Referee John Beaton mistakenly awarded the Edinburgh side a penalty-kick in the thirty-sixth minute after Jamie Walker had taken an obvious dive when Kieran Tierney checked out of a tackle. The whistler was conned and the player was later banned for simulation. That was of little consequence to Celtic, however, when Walker drilled the award beyond Craig Gordon.
The game looked to be heading for a draw until the entrance from Sinclair and his immediate impact. Running more than half the length of the field as Rodgers’ men hit on the break, the new Bhoy arrived smack on time to hammer a sublime left-wing delivery from Leigh Griffiths into the net for the winner.
Justice was done. During a rollicking, entertaining clash, eleven players were booked – four from Celtic – and Sinclair is hardly likely to forget his introduction to Scottish football.
Gordon; Lustig, Toure, O’Connell (sub: Rogic), Tierney; Brown, Armstrong (sub: Sinclair); Forrest, McGregor, Griffiths (sub: Janko); Dembele.
THE WIZARD OF OZ…Tom Rogic, the scourge of the Dons, is tackled by Mark Reynolds.
CELTIC 4 ABERDEEN 1 (August 27, 2016)
ABERDEEN arrived at Parkhead hoping to stop the rot. The Pittodrie outfit had lost on their previous TWENTY-TWO visits to the east end of Glasgow in twelve years of misery while also conceding a landslide sixty-two goals.
Before the twelfth minute, they knew they could be in trouble again. Tom Rogic clattered one off the crossbar from twenty yards early in the encounter, but the Dons’ good fortune only lasted a few more minutes. James Forrest prodded the ball in front of Leigh Griffiths, who cheekily nutmegged Kenny McLean before thumping an unstoppable eighteen-yard left-foot drive in-off the left-hand post.
All roads led to Joe Lewis in the visitors’ goal, but, remarkably, the Pittodrie side drew level in the thrity-second minute when Adam Rooney latched onto a Kolo Toure mis-hit clearance and curled a right-foot effort past new keeper Dorus de Vries. However, James Forrest restored the lead three minutes from the interval when he beautifully swerved the ball past Lewis from fourteen yards following a peach of a pass from Rogic.
The one-way procession continued in the second period, but Celtic had to wait until three minutes from the end to add to their tally. Mark Reynolds, who had earlier been booked for a cynical trip on Rogic, bundled over Scott Sinclair in the box and saw yellow again before making his exit. Sinclair drilled the award low to the keeper’s right as Lewis took off for his left.
Dons’ away day agonies were complete when Rogic swept in a devastating free-kick for the goal his all-round play deserved.
De Vries; Lustig, Toure, Sviatchenko, Tierney; Brown, Bitton (sub: McGregor); Forrest, Rogic, Sinclair; Griffiths (sub: Dembele).
ONE IS ENOUGH…Tom Rogic turns away after his winner over Aberdeen at Pittodrie.
ABERDEEN 0 CELTIC 1 (October 29, 2016)
BRENDAN RODGERS realised this confrontation would be something of a litmus test in the early days of his Celtic managerial career. The Parkhead men, under Ronny Deila’s leadership, had lost twice – both 2-1 – at Pittodrie the previous season.
Those defeats represented half of the total losses in the Premiership – Motherwell and St Johnstone also overcame the champions – and the Dons had completed the campaign as runners-up to Deila’s outfot for the second successive ter, fifteen points adrift.
So, Rodgers would have taken his side to the Granite City on breezy afternoon with the thought they could be his team main challenger in his debut season at his boyhood favourites. In short, Derek McInnes’ men had to be put in their place with a new Bhoy in town.
As expected, it was an extremely competitive affair and it took a gem of a goal and an extraordinary save to separate two able combatants at the end of a nerve-shredding ninety minutes.
The matchwinner arrived in the twenty-third minute and it was claimed by Antipodean artiste Tom Rogic, who was clearly revelling in the coaching of Rodgers to become a key player within the structure of the Irishman’s team.
Dons right-back Shay Logan was wayward with a headed clearance and the alert midfielder was onto it in a flash. He took a touch before elegantly placing an effort off the outside of his left foot wide of Joe Lewis from twenty yards. It was a sublime strike.
It remained that way until the dying seconds when the home side were awarded a free-kick in a dangerous area. James Maddison, a talented young midfielder on loan from Norwich City, flighted the ball to practically under Craig Gordon’s crossbar. There was the usual scrum and burly Adam Rooney threw himself into the mix.
It looked as though he had barged Erik Sviatchenko in the back and the Dane inadvertently got his head to the ball about two yards out to send it hurtling towards the top corner of the net. With blinding reflexes, Gordon react in an instant to throw up and a hand and send the zooming object spiralling over his crossbar.
The combination of a goal and a save, both in the wonder category, proved irresistible on the day and Rodgers took his bow at Pittodrie in splendid style. .
Gordon; Lustig (sub: Gamboa), Simunovic, Sviatchenko, Izaguirre; Brown, Rogic (sub: Bitton); Forrest (sub: Roberts), Armstrong, Sinclair; Dembele.
HAPPINESS IS…a goal against Motherwell as Callum McGregor celebrates one of Celtic’s four at Fir Park.
MOTHERWELL 3 CELTIC 4 (December 3, 2016)
THEY’RE obviously not a superstitious lot over at Celtic Park. On the thirteenth Premiership outing of the season, they went in at half-time trailing by two goals to a lively Fir Park outfit. And yet no-one in the visitors’ dressing room was willing to concede – or even contemplate – defeat.
Brendan Rodgers had to work quickly and thoughtfully in the intervening fifteen minutes to alter his team to combat the challenge of opponents who had managed to pierce their armoury twice in the opening forty-five minutes – which was something no-one had managed to achieve in ten hours of domestic football leading up to this game.
Craig Gordon and his rearguard had proved to be unbreakable, but they were undone in only three minutes at Fir Park with the simplest of goals. Former Celtic skipper Stephen McManus shelled the ball downfield from deep in his own half. Experienced Ivorian international defender Kolo Toure, who had rejoined his former Liverpool boss on a one-year deal in the summer, misjudged the flight of the ball.
Striker Louis Moult timed his run in behind the centre-half to absolute perfection and, with Gordon off his line, neatly cushioned an effort towards goal and the ball gently spun towards its destination. That wasn’t in the script. In the thirty-fifth minute, Ross McLean raced free on the left wing before crossing to the backpost. Unfortunately, Toure’s timing was off again and Moult materialsed in space again to knock the ball into the net. That DEFINITELY wasn’t in the script.
Rodgers stressed the utter importance of an early goal in the second-half. Three minutes later, Callum McGregor, who had replaced Emilio Izaguirre, duly obliged after working a neat one-two with Stuart Armstrong. Celtic had to wait until the seventieth minute, though, before they drew level. Armstrong was again involved with an inviting left-wing cross and Patrick Roberts headed in from close range.
Unbelievably, Motherwell went ahead again inside sixty seconds. The Celtic defence was posted missing when Steven Hammell launched over a deep left-wing ball and Lionel Ainsworth was given the freedom of Lanarkshire as he came in from the right to lash an unstoppable effort wide of Gordon.
A crazy spell of three goals in as many minutes continued when, practically from the kick-off, Armstrong worked an opening before turning and hitting a low shot away from the diving Craig Samson. Could Celtic conjure a winner?
THE LAST-GASP HERO…match winner Tom Rogic looks delighted after his late strike.
With the referee looking at his watch, Tom Rogic meandered over to the left wing in search of the ball. He picked it up, a swift swivel of the hips threw a defender one way as he went another as he cut across the penalty box before arcing a delightful right-foot finishing effort low down at Samson’s left-hand post.
It was a goal fit to win any game.
Rodgers admitted: “We were poor in the first-half. We got off to an awful start. We changed the system at half-time to 3-4-3. We were absolutely brilliant second-half. To score the four goals, to win the game, it really shows the mentality of the team.
“Across the team, I have to give them huge credit because we had to put risk in the game. They took on the risk and they got the reward. I’m delighted for them. That was a great victory for us and give credit to Motherwell, as well, because I thought that they were set up very, very well.”
Well boss Mark McGhee conceded: “We’ve played a really good Celtic team, they’ve fought back into it and eventually they’ve got a winning goal. We’ve just got to live with that, but our performance was good.”
Gordon; Lustig, Simunovic, Toure, Izaguirre (sub: McGregor); Brown, Armstrong; Roberts (sub: Bitton), Rogic, Forrest (sub: Gamboa); Dembele.
SAINTS AND WINNERS…Moussa Dembele celebrates his hat-trick against St Johnstone in Perth.
ST JOHNSTONE 2 CELTIC 5 (February 5, 2017)
CELTIC were toiling in Perth before Brendan Rodgers introduced Moussa Dembele to proceedings. A wonderful early strike from Liam Henderson had been nullified by Keith Watson’s leveller and Craig Gordon was beaten again by a header from his own defender Dedryck Boyata.
However, the Parkhead boss unleashed his twenty-goal striker in the fifty-ninth minute. Just over half-an-hour later, the French Under-21 hitman had hoisted his season’s total to twenty-three with a splendidly-taken hat-trick, his second of the campaign after his trio against Rangers in September.
The Perth outfit will complain long and loud about the penalty-kick award that allowed Dembele to level the scores with virtually his first touch of the ball. Referee Craig Thomson had no hesitation in pointing to the spot after a Kieran Tierney left-wing cross had hit the hand of Watson.
Possibly, on this occasion, fortunate favoured Celtic, but Saints should have remembered they may have been more than a little lucky to still have eleven men on the field after Paul Paton had been merely yellow-carded for hacking down Nir Bitton from behind only minutes beforehand.
Dembele was composure itself as he placed the ball on the spot, took a short run-up and walloped a drive into the roof of the net as keeper Zander Clark took off for his right. With thirty minutes still to play, the champions went for the jugular, struck three more times and stretched their lead at the top of the Premiership to an extraordinary twenty-seven points.
Yet they had to fight for this victory after making life difficult for themselves, despite a whirlwind start that saw them a goal ahead in the sixth minute.
ary Mackay-Steven missed an early opportunity when his finishing effort was weak and lacked direction. The ball was scrambled clear and Celtic kept it alive with Scott Brown sending birthday Bhoy Patrick Roberts, celebrating his twentieth birthday, in on goal again.
Once more, Clark managed to block the effort, but his luck ran out when the ball bounced to Henderson and he calmly took aim and slotted in an effort at the shotstopper’s exposed right-hand post.
The Saints, however, equalised just after the half-hour mark. Danny Swanson drilled over a corner-kick and Watson leapt to bullet a header towards goal. It took a touch off skipper Brown as it raged into the far corner. Worse was to follow two minutes from the interval!
Swanson swung over a left-wing cross that was missed by David Wotherspoon at the near post. The unfortunate Boyata was in direct line behind him and the defender, who has scored two matchwinning goals against the Saints and Aberdeen in recent weeks, couldn’t get out of the way. The ball struck him on the head and flew into the net beyond the flummoxed Gordon.
THE CHEER LEADER…Kieran Tierney joins in the happy throng after another goal against the Saints.
Boss Rodgers resisted the temptation to introduce top marksman Dembele at the start of the second-half, but the French ace did come on just before the hour for Mackay-Steven, who was having a frustrating afternoon against the hard-tackling Brian Easton.
Then came the leveller via the penalty spot and after the ball thumped into the rigging behind Clark, there was only going to be one winner. In the seventy-fifth minute, Mikael Lustig gathered a left-wing cross from Tierney before delivering a perfect pass in front of Dembele on the edge of the box.
He coolly sent a controlled right-foot effort low past the diving keeper to put the champions ahead. Six minutes afterwards, Roberts set up Scott Sinclair, who drove at the Perth rearguard throughout the encounter, and the Englishman slotted in his fourteenth league goal of the season.
Celtic were relentless as they piled forward in pursuit of a more handsome winning margin and it was no surprise when they claimed a fifth. And, equally, it was no surprise when it was Dembele who scored again after a neat bit of penalty-box trickery from Lustig and Callum McGregor to round off a fantastic team goal with every player getting a touch of the ball before it reached its destination. The twenty-year-old frontman almost casually swept the ball past Clark to bring down the curtain on an excellent personal performance.
Sportingly, gaffer Rodgers admitted his team got a rub of the green with the penalty-kick award. The Irishman was sympathetic when asked if the decision was harsh. He answered honestly: “I think it is. It’s one where if it’s given against you, you’re disappointed. I don’t know what the boy can do there, obviously I’m happy we got it.”
Gordon; Lustig, Boyata, Sviatchenko, Tierney; Brown, Bitton; Roberts (sub: Ciftci), Henderson (sub: McGregor), Mackay-Steven (sub: Dembele); Sinclair.
BANG! Scott Sinclair makes no mistake with a drive past Hearts keeper Jack Hamilton for his second goal.
HEARTS 0 CELTIC 5 (April 2, 2017)
SCINTIlLLATING Scott Sinclair hit a scorching treble as he propelled Celtic to their sixth successive Premiership title.
What a difference a year has made in the career of the flamboyant English attacker – last season he was relegated from the Premier League with Aston Villa!
Sinclair was ustoppable as he tore the Hearts defence apart with his tantalising forays on the left flank. He collected the matchball after his terrific trio and he was helped in inflicting capital punishment in Edinburgh by goals from the dazzling Stuart Armstrong and the excellent Patrick Roberts.
Brendan Rodgers’ men have gone unbeaten all season on the domestic front, dropping just four points to two late equalisers in thirty matches since the Northern Irishman’s arrival. There’s was never a doubt Celtic were going to claim the crown as they swept their opponents aside with a devastating display on attacking football with the end product to match the lead-up player.
Sinclair’s first goal in the twenty-fourth minute almost tore a hole in the net behind keeper Jack Hamilton. He worked a neat one-two with Roberts before racing through the static defence. The ball exploded from his right boot and hurtled high over the helpless Hamilton.
And that was the start of the green-and-white carnival.
JOY UNCONFINED…Scott Sinclair turns away in delight as Callum McGregor gets ready to congratulate him. The home fans do not join in.
There was more pain to come for the gallant custodian when Sinclair lashed another one past him for the second goal shortly afterwards. The Hoops were denied a third goal five minutes after the break when a harassed home defender turned the ball into his own net. Bizarrely, referee Kevin Clancy ruled it out for offside.
However, number three was only delayed a matter of moments as Kieran Tireney combined with Armstrong and the midfielder just can’t do any wrong at the moment. He lashed it with his cultured right foot and the ball zipped past Hamilton.
In the sixty-second minute, the travelling fans were celebrating again when Callum McGregor set up Roberts and the on-loan winger showed he, too, could hit the ball with ferocious power. The goalie was beaten all ends up as it walloped into the back of his net.
Sinclair completed his first hat-trick for the Hoops from the penalty spot after he had been bowled over. Once again he allied power with precision as he sent his effort beyond the shell-shocked Hamilton.
Delighted Rodgers could afford to give defender Kolo Toure a rare outing late on, with the Ivorian not starting a game since December. The Celtic boss reckoned his team’s hammering of Hearts was a fitting way for the club to clinch their sixth successive title.
WE ARE THE CHAMPIONS…Brendan Rodgers leads the applause after the title triumph at Tynecastle.
He said: “It typified how they’ve been for the majority of the season – their attitude, determination, style and intensity. We knew it would be a tough game and to win a pressure game like that is a remarkable achievement from the players.
“We take the energy and hunger from training into games and, from a coaching perspective, that’s great to see. The fans have been behind the team from day one. Everyone deserves a huge amount of credit – the players, staff and supporters.”
Skipper Scott Brown said: “Football-wise, it’s been top notch. The manager has recruited great players and brought belief to everyone. We have really pushed on this season.”
Hat-trick hero Sinclair added: “It was a performance that was unbelievable from the whole team. We’ve still got work to do and the season is not over yet. We keep winning and that’s the mentality here – to keep going.We take one game at a time. We’ve done so well, so we just have to keep going.”
Gordon; Lustig (sub: Gamboa), Boyata (sub: Toure), Simunovic, Tierney; Brown, Armstrong; Roberts (sub: Mackay-Steven), McGregor, Forrest; Sinclair.
* TOMORROW: Salute the Celtic Centurians! Brendan’s Bhoys make no mistake in League Cup Final against Aberdeen.