CELTIC have played 26 games so far this season. Yes that’s right, 26 games since the season started and we’re only in November. An absolutely incessant schedule.
It’s great credit to Neil Lennon and his Bhoys that of the 26 games played Celtic have won an amazing 21 of those encounters. Of the five remaining games three away games at Cluj, Rennes and Hibs have been drawn. Our only two defeats have been Cluj at Celtic Park and of course the defeat at the Tony Macaroni stadium against Livingston.
It’s the last of those defeats that gives us the warning that complacency has been an enemy we’ve rarely succumbed to but still lurks menacingly in the background. In particular when we return to earth from the orbit of European success.
Even taking a look back to this weekend last year Celtic followed up the incredible high of the 2-1 home win over Leipzig with a home slip up in a disappointing goalless draw. Once again the opponent was Livingston.
The 27th fixture of the season sees us entertain the most improved domestic side in Scotland. Once again we’re at home and we are returning from a stellar European performance in last night’s astonishing 2-1 victory in the Stadio Olimpico.
Make no mistake however Motherwell have flown somewhat under the radar this season. The Fir Park men are having a season even their most positive supporters wouldn’t have entertained as likely.
After a stuttering start in the Betfred Cup and the opening fixtures of the season including losing 5-2 at home to Celtic, a Lanarkshire Derby win at Hamilton by 3 goals to 1 saw the Steelmen’s season kick-start.
They followed up their Derby win with a 3-0 thumping of Hibs at Fir Park and along the way there have been some notable results. On the road they have beaten Hearts 3-2 at Tynecastle and St Johnstone 1-0 at McDiarmid Park and defeated St Mirren 2-0 at home.
The one black mark on the copybook was the 3-0 home defeat at home to Aberdeen but it must be pointed out they haven’t folded since.
The following week they went to Ibrox took the lead and were somewhat unlucky to lose a late goal in a 2-1 defeat. They deserved better that afternoon.
Motherwell must have taken confidence from it as they have gone on to have back to back wins. First up, at home to a sound and defensively disciplined Kilmarnock 2-1 and last week saw the resurgence continue with a good 2-1 victory against Livingston. There is a level of consistency starting to show from Motherwell and Celtic can’t take anything for granted on Sunday.
Their manager Stephen Robinson has already been linked as the next Northern Ireland manager following Michael O’Neill’s move to the poisoned chalice of the Stoke City manager’s positon.
Robinson has done very well at Motherwell. It seems every season his best players jump ship and every year he manages to use a limited budget to entice sound replacements. He’s also been tactically flexible of late after a period where his reputation could easily have been described as both industrious and direct.
Last season saw a change in tact. A more youthful and skilful approach has paid dividends. It worked well and Robinson has continued that onto this year.
This summer saw the rather unfortunate injury to David Turnbull. The player had to undergo preventative surgery on his knee in early July. This injury was uncovered by a medical ahead of a very public transfer deal to Celtic that collapsed after the findings of the assessment. This has left Robinson minus a player but also without some of the £3 million fee that had been agreed.
Jake Hastie moved on as a free agent to the Rangers and Chris Cadden headed for US Major League soccer with Columbus Crew, with a short stop off on loan at Oxford United.
Of the current group, Liam Grimshaw is Motherwell’s player of the month for October. The right back has been as consistent as ever for Stephen Robinson’s side, playing a key part throughout the month. Grimshaw was up against Peter Hartley, Devante Cole and Christopher Long and all three have hit form in the last few weeks.
The standout performers have been ex Celt Declan Gallagher now a Scotland player of course and the wonderfully consistent Liam Donnelly. In 14 games Donnelly has scored 9 goals so far including a fine goal against Celtic. He’s also in Michael O’Neil’s Northern Irish squad.
Stephen Robinson sounded in positive mood speaking to the media ahead of the match.
“The performance at Ibrox, certainly gave the players confidence. Sometimes I wish they believed in themselves as much as I believed in them.
“The hard bit is convincing people. You know that you can go to these places, put on a performance and get results.
“They’ve started to believe in our league position and in our style of play, where we’ve been attractive on the eye, played a lot of good football, scored a lot of goals and there’s no reason why we can’t go there and get a result.
“Of course the realism is that Celtic on their day are a very, very good side. As are Rangers. So we have to be at the top of our game but giving them that belief.
“I believe after the Rangers game, they believe in what we did. They believe in each other.
“So why not? If you go with a negative mindset, you might as well beat before you start.”
When Celtic welcome Motherwell to Celtic Park on Sunday it’s not just the spectre of complacency Neil Lennon and our Roman conquerors will need to contend with. They will be facing a Motherwell side brimming with confidence and making a mockery of early season predictions of doom.
I’ve a feeling we’ll see a rather entertaining encounter.