I spoke recently on this blog about ‘title credentials’. A demonstration of winning under any circumstances being at the heart of everything you do.
In terms of football quality, Celtic haven’t been at their best this season. At the same time last year we were looking and playing much better after a slow start to the season.
Saturday produced the kind of result that teams need to win titles. Tom Rogic produced a contender for goal of the season in the 90th minute to win the match.
This was as good as any goal you will ever see. After penalty claims being waved off and near misses by both teams, one player stepped up at the death to give his team the edge in the title fight.
To be fair to Rogic, he has been great to watch this season and he came up with the goods against Kilmarnock when it mattered most. More of that from some of his team mates wouldn’t go a miss either.
Even though Aberdeen had yet to play that day, who would have known that they would succumb to defeat at Motherwell? Well, I had them on my coupon to lose so I suppose I did!
Despite that result coming later in the day, Celtic pulled off a vital win which now has them 4 points ahead and with 1 game at hand. There are still 8 league games left for the Hoops though and this title battle continues.
We don’t know for certain why it hasn’t come together for Celtic this season. Injuries aside we’ve lost our central defence from last season, made no progress in Europe and have been awful to watch at the best of times.
Stefan Johansen is one particular player who since he joined in January 2014 had been impressive. Last season he scooped the PFA Scotland Players’ Player of the Year award and netted 13 goals in 56 appearances.
This season though it has gone horribly wrong for him. He has looked a shadow of the player we saw last season and even the lively new Bhoy that started his Celtic career under Neil Lennon.
Earlier this season he cited a back problem as the reason for his poor form. If that was the case then he shouldn’t have been playing at all.
Johansen has played more games than I would have picked him for this season if I’m being honest. Sticking by him has not yielded any rewards, just a reminder that he should have sat out more games until he got over his ‘back problems’ or rediscovered his form.
Similarly Craig Gordon has also suffered a dip in form. Last season he made a remarkable return to the game with performances reminiscent of his earlier years and enough to win him plaudits from all areas of the game.
He earned a call up to the national team, kept 28 clean sheets throughout last season and won the Scottish Football Writers Award for Player of the Year. This season his performances have been less than convincing between the sticks.
Unlike Johansen, there has been no claim of injury hindering him. Not even the mention of an unsettled defence has been used as an excuse, though to be fair I do think that has had some bearing on matters.
Some of Gordon’s decision making though has been questionable. Poor choices have been close to calamitous but few have criticised him this season, Chris Sutton being one of the few that has.
Gordon has started to play with a bit more confidence lately but overall it will be tricky for him to match last seasons stats. He is already 10 clean sheets short of last seasons tally with 9 games (potentially 10) remaining and it would need to be mean defence to achieve that at this point of the year.
Celtic’s form is not confined to Gordon or Johansen though. These are just two of the best examples of a change in fortune from last season to the current one.
So what exactly has changed then? Was it the exit from the Champions League and subsequent dismal performances in the Europa League?
The strengthening of the squad has produced more flops than I care to mention and not just under Deila. It goes back further than that so should we be concerned with the scouting and transfer policy at the club?
Are there divisions behind the scenes which are affecting team matters? Something has upset Celtic’s progress this season and my reading of matters tells me that it isn’t solely on Ronny Deila.
Being the head coach, he is responsible for Celtic’s performances. Yet there is still plenty to suggest he will be here next season.
And why not? Deila is still on course for a second successive domestic double so why would you want to replace a winning manager?
Europe is what supporters are concerned about. Were a third failed attempt at the Champions League to occur, a large portion of the fan base would be vindicated in their opinion that Deila should never have been allowed another shot at the competition.
Yet there is nothing to say it won’t happen this time around. It took Lennon three years.
Like Deila, he had ups and downs in his first two seasons. Then look what happened.
These can be considered learning curves as long as people are learning and not just enduring. I’ve heard a couple of people use the phrase “turning point” after Saturday’s win and not for the first time this season.
I don’t know if I’ve used the phrase myself but I will openly admit to using similar words throughout the season. There have been umpteen turning points or at least opportunities to turn things around and then the reset button gets pressed and it’s back to the drawing board.
If Rogic’s wonder strike on Saturday is to be the turning point in this title race then the players must take everything they can from that and go all out for the fans and coaching team to win this double. That means everyone investing their heart and soul for every minute of the remaining 9 or 10 games of this season.
Then and only then can you consider yourself champions.