CELTIC limped in last season an unacceptable TWENTY-FIVE points adrift in their disastrous quest to make history by winning a tenth successive title.
It was a wretched campaign and it cost Neil Lennon the job he loved when he departed Parkhead on February 23 last year – only two days after his side fired blanks in an embarrassing 1-0 loss to relegation-threatened Ross County in Dingwall.
Callum McGregor, Tom Rogic and Greg Taylor played in that nosedive in the Highlands.
The midfielder, the playmaker and the left-back were also in the starting line-up as the Hoops again failed to score in the disappointing deadlock with Hibs at Easter Road yesterday.
Happily, for those of a Celtic persuasion, the similarities end there.
After 28 Premiership games last time out, there was no likelihood of the championship returning to the east end of Glasgow. Lamentably, the crown, after nine glorious years in the club’s possession, was relinquished in a soulless scoreless stalemate against Dundee United at Tannadice on March 7.
However, there is now genuine optimisim the most-prized domestic silverware will be placed in the Parkhead trophy cabinet with Ange Postecoglou’s side three points ahead with 10 games still to be played.
Following 28 league games in this crusade, Celtic are SIX points better off than over the same period last year. Everything considered, that is a truly extraordinary transformation in the club’s fortunes, especially in the midst of such transfer turmoil with SEVENTEEN players arriving in two windows as a new manager, operating in Europe for the first time, put his adventurous jigsaw together.
Take one look at the men who failed so miserably against Ross County for the second time in a bewildering term, adding the League win to the Betfred League Cup success in Glasgow two months earlier when the home side, who had won the trophy on four successive seasons, folded feebly to an inexplicable 2-0 defeat.
Scott Brown, Odsonne Edouard, Kristoffer Ajer, Ryan Christie, Leigh Griffiths, Jonjoe Kenny, Diego Laxalt and Mohamed Elyounoussi all played in Dingwall. Not one of those players is still at Celtic.
Scott Bain was in goal on the evening Jordan White was allowed to rise above Ajer and Co to power in the only goal with a header from a left-wing free-kick in the 71st minute.
Stephen Welsh was at centre-back while David Turnbull, currently out with a hamstring problem, took his usual midfield berth to make up the contingent who performed in Lennon’s last game in charge.
There is no disguising the fact the draw in the capital against Shaun Maloney’s team was a frustrating experience as the players failed to unlock a packed defence. Naturally, expectation levels are now a lot higher than they were last year.
On the domestic front, Postecoglou has managed to lead his new-look outfit through the minefield to the pinnacle.
The manager and the players deserve credit where it is due and they go again on Wednesday night when St Mirren are the visitors.
That is the focus and then it will switch to the dreaded plastic pitch at Livingston at the weekend.
Unlike like the team’s position after 28 games last term, the crown is within sight.
No-one said it was going to be easy.