APRIL became a pivotal month in Ange Postecoglou and Celtic’s chase for a world record eighth treble.
Two crucial victories over Michael Beale’s Ibrox side – a 3-2 league win at Parkhead followed by a 1-0 Scottish Cup semi-final triumph at Hampden – paved the way for more silverware success.
The month kicked off with a routine 2-0 win over Ross County in Dingwall with Filipe Jota tucking away a penalty-kick and Alexandro Bernabei almost bursting the net with a whizzbang effort that sealed the three points.
Postecoglou was delighted as his team edged towards another barrier-breaking achievement and he targeted a new European record of 109 points from a memorable crusade.
A STROLL IN THE PARK…Ange Postecoglou gives thumb’s up after inspecting the pitch at Dingwall.
Celtic’s previous best was set during Brendan Rodgers’ debut campaign when the Invincibles swept to an extraordinary domestic clean sweep in 2016/17 with 106 points.
Postecoglou’s side are sitting on 85 points with eight games – and a potential 24 points – to play for before the end of the term due on the weekend of May 27/28.
An uninterrupted sequence of triumphs would push the present-day stars to an extraordinary tally of 109 – three better than Rodgers’ all-conquering heroes.
The 57-year-old Greek-Australian said: “It is a remarkable run because there have been some brilliant sides in Scottish football.
“But this team has surpassed those teams in terms of stats this season. Now it’s eight games to go, so there are 24 points we want to get and that’s our target.
”Just as pleasing is the level with good strong performances every week. Credit to the group – and it is the group.
“Everyone chipped in again against Ross County. Guys coming into the team have helped.”
NUMBER ONE…Kyogo Furuhashi thumps Celtic into the lead in the 3-2 derby win at Parkhead.
The Hoops duly despatched their Govan foes 3-2 in the east end of Glasgow on the afternoon of April 8 with a double salvo from Kyogo Furuhashi – now on 28 goals – with Jota rolling in the third and winning strike.
Postecoglou’s side were now a mere three wins from their remaining seven league games from clinching their second successive title – and the club’s eleventh in 12 years.
The manager said: “The players will enjoy themselves tonight and they deserve to.
“They had to overcome a pretty formidable opponent and they continue this great run they’re on.
“Every bit of it has been hard-earned and they know that. They know it’s not over and they know there are games still to go. We want to keep pushing on and keep trying to be the best team we possibly can.
“They will enjoy tonight and they know there’s no greater reward than what they’ve done today.
“If you can make one person’s life a little bit better, you’re going pretty well.
“They’ve made hundreds of thousands, potentially millions, of lives better today for the next few days, so I think they should enjoy that.”
THAT’S MY BHOYS…Ange Postecoglou congratulates his Celtic players after the 4-1 win at Rugby Park.
The Hoops eased to a 4-1 win over Kilmarnock at Rugby Park the following week following a whirlwind start with strikes from Kyogo and Daizen Maeda and a pair from Matt O’Riley.
Postecoglou singled out new Japanese Bhoy Yuki Kobayashi for special praise as he said his January recruit had “hardly put a foot wrong” in his three starts for the team.
He said: “I thought he was really good. It wasn’t easy to play on the surface and they were physical.
“It was good to get him 90 minutes, but in all the games he’s played, he’s hardly put a foot wrong and he’s growing as a player.
“That’s always going to be the challenge. If it’s not Cameron or Carl, it’ll be someone else.
“All good clubs won’t just have two good centre-halves. We want more in each position, challenging.”
The smile turned to a frown, though, a week later after a fairly inept performance in a 1-1 draw against Motherwell which ended the Hoops’ impeccable home Premiership record.
The champions produced a sloppy, disjointed display against stubborn opponents who scored with a breakaway goal which was alarmingly conceded by a dozy defence.
A BIG HAND…Ange Postecoglou acknowledges the Celtic support.
The draw, following 12 league wins in a row, leaves the Hoops 13 points ahead with only five games to play in the after-split schedule.
Postecoglou admitted: “It’s fair to say it’s disappointing both in outcome and performance.
“I thought in the first-half we were okay. We controlled the game and obviously we scored.
“We knew that the game would open up at some point, so we just had to stay disciplined.
“I was really disappointed with the goal we conceded which gave them a bit of encouragement. We had some chances after that, but we weren’t good enough to put them away.”
Callum McGregor had fired the title kings into a first-half lead with a long-range drive which took a nick off a defender on its way past Liam Kelly, but that good work was undone 10 minutes after the interval when the visitors were practically gifted an equaliser.
Matt O’Riley lost possession deep in the Well half and one ball forward from Calum Slattery sent top scorer Kevin Van Veen racing clear with Greg Taylor slow to react to the danger.
The Dutch striker turned the Hoops left-back inside out before dragging the ball to his right and hitting a fine sweeping effort wide of the exposed Joe Hart.
PICK IT OUT…Filipe Jota heads the Scottish Cup semi-final winner past the stranded Allan McGregor.
It was schoolboy defending and was punished by grateful opponents.
Postecoglou continued: “I just think it was a game where we just had to maintain control and probably we got a little bit too anxious about doing things and rushed a few things and forced a few things.
“As I said, it’s a really disappointing goal for us to concede which then gives the opposition encouragement.”
A neat headed goal from Jota saw off the challenge from Ibrox opposition at Hampden in the last game of the month to book a Scottish Cup Final slot against Inverness Caley Thistle on June 3.
However, the feelgood factor was tempered with the news Cameron Carter-Vickers had been ruled OUT of the soccer showpiece.
The rock-solid central defender played a heroic role in the win over Beale’s side. Jota got the winning goal just before the interval, but it was Carter-Vickers who produced a memorably defiant Man of the Match performance.
IN WITH A SHOUT…Ange Postecoglou yells instruction as Michael Beale looks on.
It was a mighty display by the USA World Cup centre-back as he made some crucial interventions at key moments in a hard-fought confrontation to make sure there was no way back for the Hoops’ city neighbours.
But that was literally the last kick of the ball for the £6million recruit from Spurs in the summer as Postecoglou revealed the campaign was at an end for the dependable back-four operator who has been playing through the pain barrier in recent weeks.
The Hoops gaffer said: “That is Cameron Carter-Vickers’ last game.
“He has been carrying an injury for I don’t know how long. We will put him out to pasture for now and let him get what he needs to get done.”
The international defender now faces knee surgery and rest in the summer to get him up to speed for the challenges of the new season, at home and in Europe.
On the victory, Postecoglou added: “I’m very pleased and proud of the group. I assume there will be some very happy people going home tonight.
“I don’t think anyone cares if it’s a Bank Holiday tomorrow – it would have been a holiday, anyway.
WELL DONE…Ange Postecoglou congratulates skipper Callum McGregor on another commanding performance.
“I hope they enjoy it. They deserve to enjoy this as well and we’ve got a big month coming up where, hopefully, we can do something special that’s memorable to everybody.
“We had to earn it today and work hard and it’s just a testament to the progress of this group of players that they’re just not going to yield.
“It’s a credit to the group and they’ve embraced that part of it since I arrived that we want to be known as a team that scores goals and is exciting, but, above all, we want to be relentless in our approach.
“It’s not easy to do because you’re asking players to consistently put in an effort which requires not just the physical output, but the mental output and strength to do it – and the lads were tremendous in that department.
”It’s not easy meeting the expectations of this football club, but, from my perspective, everything they’ve done to put us in this position has been outstanding.”
NATIONAL TREASURE…Ange Postecoglou shows his delight after the Hampden success.
April 2: Ross County 0 CELTIC 2
Jota (pen), Bernabei
April 8: CELTIC 3 Rangers 2
Kyogo (2), Jota
April 16: Kilmarnock 1 CELTIC 4
Kyogo, Maeda, O’Riley (2)
April 22: CELTIC 1 Motherwell 1
April 30: CELTIC 1 Rangers 0
* TOMORROW: Don’t miss the twenty-fourth thrilling instalment of CQN’s EXCLUSIVE tribute to Ange Postecoglou.