Celtic’s twelve months at the top of the league looking down on theRangers

The morning after the incredible night before one year on Friday Celtic supporters around the world woke up all with huge smiles on their faces knowing that after a stunning early February night under the lights at Celtic Park where the then current Scottish Champions and leaders arrived at the place that the Celtic fans call Paradise, looking to protect or even add to their two points lead in the Scottish Premiership.

Celtic had started the season with a new manager who suffered three consecutive early season away defeats at Tynecastle against Hearts, Ibrox against theRangers and at Livingston’s Tony Macaroni stadium before eventually getting their first points on the road at Pittodrie against Aberdeen in early October 2021 but even at that stage anyone looking at the bookmakers odds on the title race would have seen short odds on theRangers winning two in a row with Celtic under Postecoglou available at around 4/1.

Those early defeats certainly put Ange Postecoglou on the back foot in terms of the league position was concerned but the Australian, who joined Celtic that summer from J-League side Yokohama F. Marinos, never lost the backing of the Celtic support, despite the inevitable early teething troubles as he began a massive re-build job after the calamitous previous season where Celtic failed to cope with the absence of supporters in stadiums due to the Covid lockdown that allowed Stephen Gerrard to win a first ever major trophy for the phoenix ‘Rangers’ club, created in 2012 after the former club went bust owning HMRC around £60m.

Celtic had won four successive trebles in the seasons before that, twelve consecutive trophies won, an incredible, unique record that surely will never be matched in world football. The new club at Ibrox weren’t the only ones to benefit from Celtic’s collapse under Neil Lennon and Peter Lawwell that season. Up in Perth St Johnstone under Callum Davidson won the McDiarmid Park club’s first ever Double, lifting both the League Cup and Scottish Cup as Celtic ended the season empty handed and looking for a new manager.

That for a long time – over 100 days – looked like being the former Bournemouth manager Eddie Howe, but after what seemed like an endless wait, he knocked back the opportunity and Celtic hurriedly looked for an alternative. Mark Lawwell, the then Celtic CEO’s son had been working in a scouting role for the global footballing operator The City Group and worked with Ange Postecoglou as he led Yokohama F. Marinos to the J-League title, and he recommended the former Australia National team coach to his dad.

Most Celtic fans knew next to nothing about Ange Postecoglou but they did their homework and despite Scottish media attempts to undermine the incoming Celtic manager in those early days – controversial pundit Hugh Keevins reckoned that he knew what ANGE stood for…’Absolutely Not Good Enough’ – they never stopped believing in their manager.

After that win at Pittodrie Celtic never looked back but those early season set-backs meant that their was a substantial points gap to be made up but by the end of January that was reduced to just two points ahead of the Glasgow Derby under the lights at Celtic Park on Wednesday 2 February 2022. That turned out to be one of the most memorable matches ever for this generation of Celtic supporters.

By this time Steven Gerrard had gone to Aston Villa, having won one trophy from nine contested as theRangers manager (he was subsequently sacked by the Premier League club) and in his place was the former Barcelona midfielder Giovanni van Bronckhorst and it was the Dutchman in theRangers dugout a year ago last night at Celtic Park.

There were no away supporters at this game, as theRangers had refused to allocate tickets to Celtic fans for the game at Ibrox earlier in the season, so 60,000 Celtic fans created perhaps the most impressive atmosphere ever witnessed in Scottish football and theRangers players couldn’t cope. Two goals from Reo Hatate and a third by Liel Abada in a gloriously dominant first half simply blew theRangers away.

The second half was goalless as Celtic were happy with what they’d got and that was the three points that would allow Ange Postecoglou side to leapfrog theRangers and go to the top of the league for the first time.
A year down the line Celtic have never lost top spot in the Scottish Premiership, with the title won last May and this season the Celtic lead has been nine points since the break for the World Cup in November. That cost Giovanni van Bronckhorst his job and he was replaced by Gerrard’s backroom staffer Mick Beale who had just a few months before getting the Ibrox job was appointed as a manager for the first time at English Championship side QPR.
Mick Beale has matched Ange Postecoglou for points won since play resumed in mid-December but he failed to narrow the nine points Celtic lead in the recent Glasgow Derby at Ibrox which finished in a 2-2 draw. That result of course suited the leaders much more than the chasers and as games go by the chances of Beale getting theRangers back in the title race reduce further and further.

So one year ago the Celtic supporters had that ‘top of the league looking down on theRangers’ smile on their faces and delightfully to this day it’s never gone away.

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