Never Say Never – Why Scottish Premiership can still be won by a mentally stronger Celtic

Routine would be the word to describe Sunday’s game against a lacklustre Kilmarnock.

The 2-0 victory marked a first win in three league games for Neil Lennon’s Celtic, capping a big week in terms of turning round the abhorrent form the Hoops’ had endured, following the spirited performance against Lille in midweek.

Lennon once again stuck with his young guns given their heroics against the French outfit on Thursday. Conor Hazard, David Turnbull and Ismaila Soro were duly rewarded for their hard work in terms of breaking into the Starting XI with their first league starts, and they presented their boss with resolute performances all round to lift the Bhoys’ back into the 2nd spot.

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It’s all been a rather mystifying experience in the Scottish Premiership this year. Celtic are so used to winning routine games such as this and the St Johnstone game, but the way this season has gone there is just that overall added nervousness throughout the ground, even without supporters. The win on Thursday did little to quash the unsettlement, but there was an increased confidence that Lennon’s side would get the job done.

Admittedly, the nerves were starting to descend on the Parkhead surface after half-time given the scoreline; surely Celtic couldn’t drop points at home to substandard opposition yet again? The team weren’t playing badly as such, but the manner of the last few weeks may have been playing in back their minds.

Moi Elyounoussi was the man to quash those thoughts with a fortuitous finish just short of the hour mark. Some quintessentially good work down the left hand side opened up a gap for the Norwegian, whose deflected right footed strike sent Danny Rogers scrambling, but he couldn’t keep the ball out of the net. Once the deadlock was broken the floodgates opened, and the Bhoys’ never looked back following a strong header courtesy of loanee Shane Duffy, following a sumptuous corner by David Turnbull.

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Albeit, as good as the win was, there was definitely room for improvement. As solid as the defence and midfield was, the wide areas were distinctively average for the first hour of the game. Much has to be asked of the stars of old in McGregor and Edouard, with the latter looking very frankly disengaged as he has done in recent times. With the January transfer window looming largely, and Champions League prize money not on offer, there is definitely a debate as to whether French Eddy has had his head turned.

Having said that, it was the new signings who won Celtic the game in the end. David Turnbull was by far and away the biggest catalyst for the game today; the summer signing from Motherwell was instrumental for the Hoops’ throughout the ninety minutes and he contributed heavily to gaining all three points in a game where Celtic could easily have folded. His recent performances will surely have Ryan Christie and the inconsistent Tom Rogic looking nervously over their shoulders for the playmaking birth in the side, and given his sensational ability from set-pieces, it is no wonder the towering Duffy was there to lap up his corner delivery.

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The question now turns to mentality. Will the events of the last few days spur Celtic on to compete for the title? Once the Hearts game is over next Sunday, Celtic will only have one competition to focus upon for the next six weeks: the Scottish Premiership. This could be a blessing in disguise for the treacherous season that is to follow; theRangers will still be seven points ahead if Celtic win their games-in-hand, but with the Scottish League Cup now out of bounds for Celtic, all focus will turn to the league, and with theRangers qualifying for the knockout stages of the Europa League, fatigue may play a huge part in determining success.

How sweet would it be for theRangers to drop points in the spring due to being distracted by their Europa League knock-out games? In a season of struggle, that is one shining beacon of light in which Bhoys’ fans could look forward to. It is very plausible after all, considering theRangers‘ crumble towards the end of last season. Here’s hoping.

By this time next week, Celtic will hopefully have completed the quadruple treble and then the focus will  be on making up for lost time with just 23 games to play. It surely is going to be a tough ride, but as the saying goes; never say never.

Will Lancaster

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