April kicked off down at Cappielow, with Crainie scoring a first senior goal just before the interval, the infuriating Ritchie then equalising early in the second period. Provan made a welcome return from the bench late on and was then named in the starting line-up for the visit of Rangers. McCluskey failed to recover from injury, meaning that all three main strikers were missing for this game, the emergency ‘Little and Large’ strike force of defender Tom McAdam and teenage winger Danny Crainie being called for duty.
And come to the rescue they did, Hoops-mad Danny making a dream debut in this fixture by scoring with his first touch in the opening minute, forcing the ball home at the far post after good work from Sullivan. Tom then played his part, heading home early in the second half – his third goal that season against the Ibrox side – as the makeshift strike duo came up trumps on the day. A late Johnstone volley was the solitary Rangers response, as Celtic took another huge step towards retaining their title.
As Cesar congratulated his patchwork side at full-time, many playing through injury, out of position or both, he would no doubt have felt some concern that whilst the championship was now tantalisingly close, there were still ‘eight cup finals’ to be won before he could claim that crown. In a season where so many of his key players had suffered serious setbacks, what would the remaining fixtures bring?
The title countdown continued at Broomfield, Celts running riot on the old ground for a 5-1 victory. McCluskey was back in the team, having missed the derby victory the previous weekend, celebrating his return with a fabulous effort early in the second-half, Celtic’s third of the night. Aitken had opened the scoring in the second minute with a header and the Bhoys didn’t look back, Crainie quickly netting his third goal in three games, Provan adding a fourth on the hour and young left-back Mark Reid rounding things off with a spot-kick for his first Celtic goal. It was an excellent team performance.
Three days later Dundee rolled up to Celtic Park, fresh from a midweek victory at Ibrox and making the perfect start with a Smith header in the third minute, a lead they held for the best part of an hour. The pivotal moment in the game was Celtic’s equaliser, a second successive penalty conversion from Reid, awarded for a high challenge on Burns despite Dundee protests. The Bhoys took advantage of the break to go in front within ten minutes, McCluskey nodding home following a corner and the game looked all over when Provan capitalised on a defensive error to make it 3-1 with just thirteen minutes remaining. However, Ferguson immediately pulled a goal back and it was ‘squeaky-bum time’ until McCluskey settled the issue late on with his second headed goal of the match.
Our mood was further lifted on full-time, as news came through of another Cappielow defeat for Aberdeen. So our lead had stretched to nine points, Dons having eight games left in which to close the gap, two more than Celtic.
In midweek, it was the turn of Dundee’s Tannadice Street neighbours to visit Parkhead. Again, only 14,000 were in the ground for such a vital game, incredibly disappointing by today’s standards but very much a sign of the times back then.
Celtic were in impressive form from the outset, the onslaught on United’s goal finally paying off just before half-time, as McCluskey continued his fine scoring run with a close-range finish. Chicken George, so-called after a character from the popular TV drama Roots if I recall correctly, then added a second after the break, beating McAlpine with a neat lob. However, the highlight of the night came with just ten minutes left on the clock, Provan curling an unstoppable free-kick high into the net to seal the points, despite a late Davie Dodds consolation goal for the Arabs.