CHRIS SUTTON insists Celtic should not settle for second best as they continue their remarkable transformation under Ange Postecoglou.
The Hoops have been revitalised since the Greek-Australian arrived in June last year and has overseen an extraordinary SEVENTEEN new players being recruited over the same period.
Others such as long-term skipper Scott Brown, Odsonne Edouard, Kristoffer Ajer, Ryan Christie and Olivier Ntcham have headed in the opposite direction with the club taking drastic action after the previous season’s wretched campaign, the team’s first trophyless term in 11 years.
But, in astonishingly double-quick time, the side have gone from also-rans – failing in their historic quest for a tenth successive championship by 25 points – to genuine challengers in the Premiership chase, the Scottish Cup and the Europa Conference League while the Premier Sports League Cup was captured in December.
Postecoglou is now preparing his players for the last-16 tie in the national competition against Raith Rovers in the east end of Glasgow tomorrow with a 4pm kick-off and former goalscoring hero Sutton said: “The title race takes a backseat for Celtic this week, but they can’t afford to take the foot off the gas.
SCARF ACE…Ange Postecoglou shows his true colours after another victory.
“I understand why the Premiership crown is the be all and end all this season, especially with the Champions League prize at stake for the winners.
“But I believe Celtic have got themselves in to a position where they should be thinking about winning everything – including the Europa Conference League.
“That would have sounded a preposterous idea back in the summer when Ange Postecoglou inherited a shambles.
“Yet they are now in a position where they have the squad and the momentum to challenge on all fronts.
“Look, I’m not saying they will win a quadruple and I don’t think the title is in the bag just because Celtic thumped Rangers last week to go top.
“You can’t write the Ibrox club off yet as they have stabilised after Parkhead and are back in the hunt.
“It will go to the wire and even if Celtic fall short, there is no denying the progress made this term and the optimism that will remain for the future under this manager.
“But if I was in that dressing room I wouldn’t be thinking about being second best in ANY competition.”
ON WAY BACK…Christopher Jullien goes through a training routine as he hopes to return to first-team action after being out for over a year.
Sutton, speaking to the Daily Record, continued: “Raith Rovers in the Scottish Cup could be a tricky test as John McGlynn is a wily manager who will make his side hard to beat.
“Bodo/Glimt have shocked teams all across Europe this season and will be another difficult tie.
“I don’t know if fans would rather Celtic made the league a priority, but I would be looking to take each challenge head on.
“And I suspect Postecoglou will be the same. He doesn’t seem to have a reverse gear and he will want to keep the momentum rolling.
“He can rotate more now and you’d think the likes of Christopher Jullien might get a run out against Raith. But it should be all guns blazing against Bodo and see where it takes them.
“There are some decent clubs in the Conference League – such as Roma, PSV Eindhoven, Marseille and Fenerbahce.
“That’s a company Celtic can mix in though, so why not aim to go far, and maybe all the way?”
Sutton, now a top media pundit, added: “You can’t really fault Postecogou and his side right now. They are unbeaten in 20 in the league.
“They have managed to turn a six-point deficit into a lead at the top of the table.
“They’ve also managed to win games in a manner of different ways. They swatted aside Rangers and Motherwell, but they had to dig it out against Dundee United and now Aberdeen. Even Alloa was another challenge to be overcome.
“They’ve done that and it’s got them into a position no-one would have expected at the start of the season.
POINTING THE WAY AHEAD…Filipe Jota celebrates the first of his double in the 3-2 win at Aberdeen.
“They’ve also done it while at times producing some of the best football I’ve seen from Celtic in years. It’s been breathtaking at times.
“You look at some of the play at Tynecastle, the way they blew Rangers away and that display at Fir Park, where it could have been a cricket score if not for keeper Liam Kelly.
“It was heading that way again at Pittodrie until the second-half scare, but having been part of Celtic sides who have gone long unbeaten runs, I know it takes all kinds of performances to get results.
“It’s not going to be silky football every week. Celtic have found different ways to win and the challenge is to keep it going on all fronts.”
Following the Cup-tie against the Kirkcaldy club, the Hoops will take on the Norwegians of Bodo/Glimt at the same venue in their first leg of their Europa encounter on Thursday and then it’s Dundee, once again at Parkhead, a week tomorrow.
Postecoglou will then take his players to Norway for the return a week on Thursday and then three days later they square up to Shaun Maloney’s Hibs team at Easter Road.