My friends in Celtic, this is not a happy read. Not since Tony Mowbray was in charge 11 years ago have we been under pressure like this at the end of the year; second favourites for the title by a significant margin.
A 12 game period saw us eliminated from the Europa League at the group stage with only one win and one draw to our credit, our first defeat in the League Cup in almost five years and a number of grim performances in the league that sees us 16 points adrift with three games in hand.
Unaccustomed as we are to defeat, the shock drew protests against the manager and board and worse for players leaving Celtic Park after the Ross County defeat. Neil Lennon looked beleaguered as the board came under pressure to sack him but that campaign was itself undermined by an unexpected win against Lille, helped in no small way by the arrival of David Turnbull and Ismaila Soro in the starting line-up.
Crisis on the park added to pressures off it as the club had to cope without fans at Celtic Park since March. Whatever sporting advantage was lost due to this is nothing to the commercial consequences, that will see the club plunge into debt. Chasing their own Holy Grail, Celtic declined to sell their most saleable assets and pressed ahead with purchases in the summer. It was a gambler’s play we have not often seen from Celtic.
Champions League income was a potential salvation that Ferencvaros extinguished in a pitiful manner. Early season league form gave an indication of what was to come, then the music stopped with the visit of Newco. Celtic did not record an attempt on target and were relieved of the points by a superior opponent.
2020 was the year Celtic won 9-in-a-row for the second time. They started the year smarting from a home defeat to Newco but form after the break was imperious, while Newco did not have the legs for the race, or as their manager put it, did not have the “bottle”. The Scottish Cup semi-final against Aberdeen was held over until November, the final, 11 days ago against Hearts, will live long in the memory.
It was a classic Celtic performance this season. Two goals ahead at halftime, Hearts bossed the second period and took the game to extra time. Again we took the lead, again Hearts levelled, but as Tommy Burns once said, “there is something about this club”. The Scottish Cup was won for the fourth consecutive time, a new record, also securing the fourth consecutive treble and Celtic’s seventh overall. We celebrated history in our homes.
That defeat to Ross County means another club will lift a trophy in 2021, the first apart from Celtic since 2016. More importantly, the record we have tracked for nine years is in trouble. Celtic’s form has improved significantly since that win over Lille, we are now back to playing the way we were early this year, but the gap at the top of the table is significant and we are up against an opponent that has lost only one game in all competitions this season.
You and I have seen Celtic come back from more difficult positions than this against original Rangers in 2007-8 and form at the corresponding stage of season 1978-9 gave no indication of how that title would be decided. But having read the story of each of our 51 league title wins, I don’t think any would match a league win in 2021 – and I include 1998 and 1966.
We are only here because we know there is something special about this club, so ‘hope in our hearts’ is not easy to extinguish, but we will find out more about our chances on Saturday.
I hope you each have a safe New Year and a healthy 2021. Take care, Paul67.