A shot in the arm

Having suffered back-to-back defeats and back-to-back draws, it was a welcome relief to see Celtic emerge from the weekend as victors. It was their first win since the St Johnstone game back on October 4th.

Better still, this was the first clean sheet they’d managed since that game in Perth too. Game-by-game, Celtic are slowly beginning to recover from a string of results which have heaped further pressure on them.

This season already comes with its own unique pressure given the task at hand. Ten titles in a row has never been achieved in Scotland and nine is the ceiling on two occasions by ourselves and our old rivals.

Recent results left many thinking whether history was slipping from our grasp. However, Celtic have responded in the last few games, stepping it up each time.

I said previously that the defeat to Milan was an improvement on the defeat to our city rivals and since then each game that has followed has been an improvement on the one before. I still stick by that and if you look at the games again Aberdeen, there’s a huge improvement from the one at Pittodrie to the one at Hampden as well.

For starters, we didn’t concede three goals or two penalties. Our defence looked a little more convincing and will do their confidence the world of good.

The inclusion of Scott Bain has been relatively positive. I wasn’t confident of going into this season with him as number one, but give that Valisis Barkas doesn’t seem to have found his feet just yet, I think a change was coming regardless of his ‘injury’.

There is still a lot of work to be done though. We are still without a full strength squad and the schedule is busy with an international break to content with too.

Sunday was very encouraging though. The first half in particular was a joy to watch with two great goals.

Ryan Christie’s was sublime followed by Mohamed Elyounoussi’s from close range. Both goals were assisted by Tom Rogic.

It’s hard to believe that in the summer the Australian looked to be off. It’s not coincidence that his re-emergence in the Hoops has changed our fortunes.

Before Christie even got a sniff in the first team, Rogic was one of our key players in an attacking midfield role. What he can do with the ball has moved Celtic up a gear for sure.

Although Sunday’s game petered out after the interval for Celtic and the substitutes weren’t quite effective to finish Aberdeen off, the game did feel a little like a turning point. It just goes to show what a win and a clean sheet can do for your confidence especially when you are under pressure from your fans and a baying media.

The hard work is just beginning though. Celtic are in another final and looking to secure a delayed quadruple treble in late December.

Championship side Hearts will be the opponents and comes amongst a busy season where the fixtures are stacking up. Having already had two games postponed (Aberdeen and St Mirren) thanks to Boli Bolingoli, we are having further games postponed due to playing out last seasons Scottish Cup this season.

A game scheduled for the weekend just past (St Mirren) and one in December (Livingston) means fixture congestion. There is also very little in the way of free midweeks either and you can be sure any that are will be utilised for the games that are on hold.

With some players now returning to duty, hopefully it will allow for some squad rotation. We need a settled team, but with a heavy schedule and no winter break, even the increased amount of substitutes allowed will be worth their weight in gold fro Neil Lennon.

Our next game is at home to Sparta Prague tomorrow at Celtic Park. Before last Thursday, I was happy to let the game against Lille slide with a view to Sunday’s semi-final.

One week on I actually think we can beat Prague and go on a winning run. After Thursday, Celtic face Motherwell away in the league followed swiftly by an international break.

Whilst it may assist some players in a break from domestic playing duty, many of our squad will be on international duty. Given the way Celtic were affected by this last time around, there is cause for concern.

Odsonne Edouard, Hatem Elhamed, Nir Bitton and Ryan Christie were all self-isolating and it is only since the weekend that we’ve had all of them available for selection. When you already have three long term players out in Mikey Johnston, Christopher Jullien and James Forrest, it’s a significant amount of absentees and that was added to last week when Kristoffer Ajer was taken off injured over in France.

It’s been a torrid time for Celtic, but they are showing character in the face of adversity. This tenth title will not come easily and the Champions have had everything thrown at them so far.

Given a change in fortunes I think the team will be feeling confident playing Sparta Prague in Glasgow. A win for Celtic would put them on the same points at Lille, should the French side lose to Milan in Italy.

Once Thursday is done and dusted, Celtic can turn their attentions back to Premiership duties for the first time in three weeks. The Bhoys are away to Motherwell on Sunday and looking for their first league win in over a month.

If things begin to gather momentum, I can see us kicking on from now through to New Year. So far we’ve had to weather an early season storm, but Sunday was a real shot in the arm.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

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