IN May 2020, a premature yet all-but-inevitable ninth title was sealed for Celtic, with the Bhoys scoring a mighty 89 goals in 30 games, conceding only 19, and leading Rangers by at least ten points.
Three months later, a very different-looking Celtic started taking to the Premiership pitches – one that struggles to score goals and concedes at nearly twice the rate. An outstanding flaw across the campaign has been defence and goalkeeping, especially as the league leaders conceded a mere three goals in 16 games.
Erratic goalkeeping certainly has not helped, but it mostly underscores a lack of consistency across the park. With five clean sheets in his opening ten Premiership matches, Vasilis Barkas’ seven goals against, as well as Scott Bain’s seven conceded in four games, show how hot-and-cold Celtic have been.
Following the 1-1 tie with St. Johnstone, it was reported that manager Neil Lennon will have just seven games to turn it all around.
This gives the boss five Premiership games, culminating in a do-or-die January 2 meet at Ibrox. As the old cliché goes, though, anything can happen in football, so is there a chance for a miracle at Celtic Park to land an unprecedented decade of titles?
It’s all about the derby
From the moment of the club’s ultimatum to Lennon, there were four Premiership games before, and 11 league matches after the second Old Firm derby in January.
The result weighing on Celtic’s mind is the 0-2 home loss which featured a complete lack of motivation, conviction, and shots on target. Of course, there’s also a meeting between the Bhoys and Gers in the penultimate match of the season, at Celtic Park.
So, there’s plenty of time to make up the 13-point divide. In their season predictions, on 26 July, The Scotsman noted Celtic’s depleted squad, but expected the Bhoys to still end up on top: the foundations are strong enough to mount a title challenge.
At the 14-game mark for Celtic, with two games in hand on the leaders, it was calculated that the champions still had a 12 per cent chance of winning the Premiership, to Rangers’ 88 per cent.
As of 9 December, the sentiment carries into the outright Scottish Prem odds at Betway, with Celtic at 9/2 to Rangers’ 1/8.
The calculations haven’t swayed enough to count-out Celtic, but it’ll be crucial for the club to right the wrongs of the campaign so far.
Even though the Bhoys had the possession, aerial dominance, and pass success, the Gers managed to get five shots on net, with Allan McGregor – a 6’, 38-year-old goalie – not being asked to make a single stop.
With four matches to get some form, the Hoops have to go all-in on the road to Ibrox.
Opportunities to get the goals flowing
In fairness to the board, they’ve given their perpetual Premiership-winning manager a fair shake at turning things around before the ultimate deciding match against Rangers.
At the time of the ‘seven games to go’ announcement, Kilmarnock, Ross County, Hamilton Academical, and Dundee United made up the end of the 2020 league fixtures list.
The first job has been taken careof with a 2-0 win oveer the Ayrshire side at the weekend with Mohamed Elyounoussi and Shane Duffy on target.
The next two games, against Ross County and Hamilton, then need to be goal-fests, as they were earlier this season.
We smashed Ross County 5-0 in September and claimed an emphatic 5-1 win over Hamilton the month prior. Just before Rangers, on December 30, a statement victory over the low-scoring Dundee United is needed, who stubbornly fought for the bulk of the 90 minutes before Albian Ajeti hit the only goal late on at Tannadice at the end of August.
There are plenty of games to capitalise on potential slip-ups from Rangers after the Ibrox meet, but getting in top form through December and then forcing a slip-up is critical. It’s a true six-point game, with another on March 20 that the Hoops could do with having a mental edge in to ensure that there’s a fight to the last game.
Given the way that the Premiership has gone so far, the odds are stacking up against Celtic to pull off what would be a miracle finish to the campaign. Still, by pulling together through December and triumphing in the Old Firm derby, the Hoops’ tenth-consecutive title could be the most memorable of them all.