CELTIC’S season is about to enter a dramatic phase that could determine whether or not history is made, and we are not even out of September yet.
An away tie in Sarajevo, followed by an international break as the precursor to a dramatic Glasgow derby mean that if results go Celtic’s way the club could be commanding the Scottish Premiership table with a match still up their sleeve and looking forward to Europa League group action—a prospect balanced by the reality that if the results go against Celtic it will be a early tumble that could threaten to derail their efforts this season already.
No blow struck at this stage of the season will be fatal, whether it is given or received, but it is nevertheless often absolutely vital importance to Celtic that—after some stuttering showings—the dominance that have made them nine times league champions returns.
There was some sign of that at another empty Celtic Park as Celtic rebounded from a disappointing but ultimately victorious performance in Latvia by easily dispatching Hibs 3-0.
It was a performance that manager Neil Lennon used to boost the spirits in his squad, declaring it was one of the best in his time at the club. That may be something of an exaggeration, but the Irishman can be forgiven for getting carried away after having nursed his side through matches in which they misfired and underperformed, even while gathering the points which continue the promise this season will be a special one.
“That’s our best performance of the season and I think it’s one of the best in my time here as manager, whether that be in my first spell or back again for my second,” he said. “I thought it was breath-taking, I thought the football we played was outstanding against a very good side who have come here full of confidence.
“I thought we were absolutely magnificent in all departments, so I’m very happy.”
The match saw new signing David Turnbull stake a claim for a starting position, while Nir Bitton looked steady as he stepped in in defence. Jeremie Frimpong once again showed his worth to the Celtic side, following his match-winning assist in Latvia as he crossed for Mohamed Elyounoussi’s winner.
Special praise was reserved for captain Scott Brown, however, with his manager singling him out for praise.
“I thought Scott Brown was man of the match, I thought he was brilliant,” Lennon said. “I know some people have been questioning him, sometimes he takes a little bit to get going, he needs the games, but I thought he was imperious today.
“His legs haven’t gone, we’ve got all the data and see him every day. He’s so important to us, he’s the fulcrum of the team, on and off the field. His performance today was magnificent.”
That pleasure at the team performance was shared by Frimpong, who spoke of his willingness to fight for the team—particularly at a time when injuries have crept in at a crucial moment.
“The team played really well against a hard opponent,” he said. “We moved the ball well and we took our chances. I thought the win was fully deserved.
“Like I said in my last interview after the Riga game, I give everything for the team. If that means running, then that’s what I want to do. The team put in a great performance, but for me, I just want to play.
“Obviously, it was unlucky for James [Forrest] to get injured, these things happen. I got put into the team today and I gave everything I could, so, yeah, I’m pleased with that.”
With Hibs having taken points off Rangers, the ease with which Celtic brushed them aside bodes well for the upcoming derby, but the thought of once again seeing an important game taking place in front of an empty Celtic Park is a sad reminder of the main headline of the season so far.
Fans may well be satisfied with the direction Celtic look to be heading in once again, but with the stands empty and the turnstiles closed the loss of the Celtic support remains. Only a win against their city rivals will do anything to relieve the pain that it seems will be the feature of this season for many months to come.