Anyone fancy a game of fitba?
With another week of off field activity shifting attention away from the team itself, it would normally be good to get back to focussing on the game itself. However, with the performances on the park the cause in the main of the off-field disruption, alongside the perception there is not an awful lot left to play for, you can see why the distractions in the boardroom would take precedence at the moment. Yet the truth is, as Celtic entertain St Mirren at Celtic Park this afternoon, there is a lot at stake.
The title being won may now seem akin to attempting to climb Ben Nevis backwards whilst blindfolded, but for Celtic, even if they fall short, they cannot afford to drop their attention from Champions League qualification by way of at least a second-place finish.
There is also the not insignificant matter of getting a team into stride with a view to being ready for a Scottish Cup assault – as and when the tournament comes out of cold storage, and with it a record to extend in the world’s oldest cup competition.
We’ve won four on the bounce, it was never done before, and we can now win five. That has to be the aim. And that history can of course be extended as we could become the first club to win the Scottish Cup twice in one season. Trivial for some, trivia for others, for me it would be a cracking achievement and unusual bit of history to be part of. So, in a season of perpetual doom and gloom there is a certain importance to Celtic’s game this afternoon. It is vital we get into our stride.
And talking of positives, Celtic offered some optimism by getting the first win of 2021 under our belts with a 2-0 victory on Wednesday against basement dwellers Hamilton Accies. That ended a run of four games without a win. And although it was a modest goalscoring return, it added a clean sheet to build defensive confidence.
In fact, Celtic have now conceded just four goals in eight games, keeping clean sheets in five of those and only conceding more than once in that draw at the Tony Macaroni. Not bad when you consider 13 players were self-isolating during this period, however self-inflicted that was!
Our overall record against today’s opponents is also enough to inject a bit of optimism ahead of kick off. Since 2013, Celtic have won 13 out of 14 games against the Buddies and since 2019 that includes all of the last six. St Mirren also have an issue with scoring at Celtic Park having been unable to score against the Hoops on their last three visits to Paradise.
Celtic’s recent efforts may lack for form but if you exclude the Glasgow Derby, where luck and officiating played a part in Celtic’s defeat at Ibrox, and the three games where Celtic drew whilst being impacted by the absence of the guts of the first team, Celtic are actually on a five-game winning run. OK I accept that may be engineering the statistics somewhat but I’m looking for positives here, give me a break.
Talking of which during Celtic’s (ahem) winning run, our opponents have tasted defeat four times and in all of those losses they also failed to score. OK so they won 5-1 last time out against Dundee United I hear you say, well a legal analysis would advise any singular exception simply proves a rule. Clutching at straws? Possibly.
What is absolutely certain is that Celtic have to retain on field focus this season, however disastrous it has been up to now. If there is to be further change on the back of yesterday and Peter Lawwell retiring, how we perform in the remainder of this season could have a huge impact on the extent of future plans and budgets.
We must simply give ourselves every opportunity to be playing Champions League football next season, the first step towards that is at least confirming a second-place finish.
Celtic have been financially impacted this season, I’ve even heard the word paralysis used to describe Celtic’s financial situation – hence the sale of Jeremie Frimpong – and some form of reparation can be gleaned by way of those Champions League funds. We must at least give ourselves the opportunity to be in the qualification draw.
A Scottish Cup win would also repair some damaged confidence and continue and record-breaking run in the competition.
There is also the not insignificant matter of being prepared for next season. Next year’s winners of the league title could conceivably win an automatic Champions League spot, in fact it is looking promising, even likely at this moment in time. Whoever gets that title receives that spot, the prestige and the £30million – and gets a financial march on their rival. To miss out on that is unthinkable. We must be prepared.
As painful as it has been, as off field and on field performances have taken turns to see who can outdo each other, Celtic introduced the winds of change with the announcement Dominic McKay will succeed Peter Lawwell, this in itself injects optimism for a change in direction at Celtic. We can build on that with a win against the Buddies this afternoon. So, anyone up for a game of fitba?