The “beginning of the end” of the season is upon us as Celtic prepare to return to league action with Sunday’s trip to Dingwall.
The lunchtime fixture with Ross County will see Celtic enter Matchday 30 of the 38 game Scottish Premiership campaign. With a 9 point lead (and a 27 goal advantage) – not to mention form that shows 21 wins out of the last 22 league games – Ange Postecoglou’s men are firmly in the driving seat to retain the trophy.
Having despatched Rangers in last month’s final the League Cup is already back in the trophy cabinet and a Scottish Cup Semi-Final against the same opponents brings the prospect of a world record breaking 8th domestic treble into sharp focus.
You won’t hear Ange or his players mention “the T word” in any of their press conferences of course, but there’s no doubt that it’s now firmly in the minds of most supporters.
LAYING THE FOUNDATIONS
League titles aren’t won in September, but they can be lost at that early stage of the season if you give up too much ground to your rivals.
A shock loss to St Mirren on Matchday 7 however has been the only notable blip in the domestic calendar for the Hoops so far as they’ve swept aside all before them to record a league record to date of 27 wins, 1 draw and just 1 loss from 29 fixtures.
We take a look here at the 5 games we feel have put Celtic once again within touching distance of making history.
Celtic 4 v 0 Rangers – 3rd Sep ’22
Putting Down An Early Marker
The first Glasgow Derby of the season landed on Matchday 6 with Celtic having hit an incredible 9 goals without reply against Dundee Utd the week before.
Rangers however would offer a different challenge altogether – or would they?
Despite losing Kyogo to injury after just 3 minutes the Bhoys roared into a 3 goal lead by the break – just as they had done back in February thanks to a Liel Abada double and a goal of sheer quality by Jota.
This game was over by lunchtime with the win taking the Hoops 5 clear at the top of the table after just 6 games.
Ange: “The boys were outstanding from start to finish. We know what this game means to our supporters. We’ve given them another memorable day and the players deserve all the credit for that.
“You can win games in many ways, but our form has been outstanding and we’ve been getting better every week. If we keep going like that, we’re going to be hard to stop.”
St Mirren 2 v 0 Celtic – 18th Sep ’22
100% Start Comes To A Surprise End
It may seem unusual to highlight a defeat in a list of season defining games, but this game falls firmly into that category.
The shock 2-0 loss brought a 364 game unbeaten league record to an abrupt end and with it Celtic’s 100% start to the campaign.
Ange Postecogoglou made 6 changes to the side for this one following a midweek Champions League draw with Shakhtar Donetsk and conceded later that he got it wrong.
A rarely seen centre half pairing of Stephen Welsh and Moritz Jenz started, with Arron Mooy looking well short of match fitness in the centre of midfield, and goals in either half were enough to seal the points for the Paisley side.
However for Ange Postecoglou you either win or you learn and the subsequent 22 game unbeaten tells you just how much we learned from this one.
Ange: “There are always reminders we still have work to do.
We didn’t perform in any of the areas we like to perform in and have been performing in.
There isn’t anything hugely positive we can take from today, including team selection – which probably wasn’t right.”
St Johnstone 1 v 2 Celtic – 8th Oct ’22
We. Don’t. Stop.
If we ever needed a reminder of Ange’s signature catchphrase then we were provided with it in the 95th minute of this match up with St Johnstone.
Despite an impressive display it looked like a 1-0 win would be enough to take all three points but Alex Mitchell had other ideas as he converted a set piece in the 93rd minute to level the game.
Following an injury picked up against Leipzig in the Champions League days earlier skipper Callum McGregor was missing from the Celtic midfield with Matt O’Riley deputising in the No.6 role.
But just when it looked like the captain’s absence would be felt with the loss of two points Celtic’s No.7 converted with the last kick of the ball following good work by James McCarthy and then Alexandro Bernabei.
Ange: “Through the course of the year, there are times where you have to show that character.
“Not every game is going to run smooth, it won’t always go your way. There are times we had to do that last year and it’s good to know it’s still there this year because we’re going to need it.”
Hearts 3 v 4 Celtic – 22nd Oct ’22
So Near, So VAR
Celtic made the trip to Tynecastle on the weekend that VAR was introduced to Scottish Football and it was a debut to forget – at least from a green and white perspective.
Hearts were (rightly) awarded two penalties on the day but this one will mostly be remembered for a hand ball in the box by Hearts defender Michael Smith that went completely unpunished.
This was after a perfectly good headed goal by Anthony Ralton was ruled out for no apparent reason.
Lawrence Shankland came off the bench to grab a Hat-Trick for the Edinburgh side but goals from Forrest, Giakoumakis, Maeda, and fan’s favourite Greg Taylor would ensure all three points returned to Glasgow in a 7 goal thriller.
Ange: I know VAR is there for the big decisions but you’d think they’d get to them a bit earlier. I thought we had a clear handball, but what do I know?
“There’s a lot of standing about, a lot of theatre. I’m not a fan of it.
If that’s the kind of drama you want, there’s probably a good movie playing at the cinema tomorrow. You can sit down, get your popcorn, and watch it. I like to watch football.”
Rangers 2 v 2 Celtic – 2nd Jan ’23
Kyogo Brings in the Bells
It was a game that Rangers had to win to have any hopes of putting pressure on us in the title race.
Celtic raced into an early lead after Daizen Maeda capitalised clinically on an Alfredo Morelos mistake but two goals early in the second half looked like giving Rangers an unlikely win.
Step up Kyogo Furuhashi.
Before this game the Japanese frontman had yet to score against our Glasgow rivals and what better time to break your duck. With all others losing their heads Celtic’s No.8 showed the required composure in a crowded penalty box to lift the ball high into the net in the 88th minute to ensure we left Ibrox with our 9 point lead firmly intact.
Ange: “It was a great game of football before we get to anything else, it was a cracking game. All eyes, not just in Scotland, but around the world were on it, and both teams at it – a proper derby.”
Talking specifically about his players he added: “They’re human beings, they’re not robots. It’s a big occasion, a big game, and we just tightened up in some areas where our football is usually a lot more free-flowing.”
So there you have it.
Five huge results from what’s been a thrilling season so far.
With just 9 league games remaining and the prospect of two more in the Scottish Cup we could yet be adding a few special results to that list.
What’s been the biggest result for you? Are there any others games you think should be included?
Let us know in the comments or on twitter @celtexchange
Tune in to the latest episode of The Celtic Exchange Weekly as we discuss The Games That Have Shaped The Season (So Far!), The Rise & Rise of Greg Taylor, Angeball Analysed & Much More!
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