A Ton of Stats

Two league games left, and having played the teams in second, third and fourth you would think that it should get easier for us now as we finish the season playing the teams in fifth and sixth.

But then football isn’t quite that simple, is it?

For the longest time this season, the team that are still bottom of the league and who look likely to be relegated this weekend were the only team to have taken points off us. After that draw, we went on to beat every single team in the league home and away before anyone else managed to match that feat.

Only four teams have stopped us winning in the league this season. Inverness were the first with a late equaliser back in September, while so called Rangers similarly scored a late equaliser in March to end our winning run. Late equalisers are a bit of a theme actually, because the latest of the four draws came in April courtesy of a dodgy late penalty at Ross County. Indeed, the only team this season to have earned their draw earlier than the last couple of minutes of the game was actually our next opponents Partick Thistle.

Ade Azeez levelled the game with just less than half an hour to go after Sinclair had given us the lead just after half time. Mind you, Sinclair did miss a penalty after the equaliser, so it’s not like we didn’t have a chance to win it.

That draw at Celtic Park in April followed another tight affair at Celtic Park back in December. When we faced Thistle twice in eleven days during our busiest spell of the season, it was Sinclair’s early goal that proved to be the deciding factor. That goal provided the last win of a run of eighteen wins over our Glasgow rivals.

Curiously then, the only comfortable win we’ve managed over Thistle this season actually came at Firhill. In our first match against Thistle this season, Stuart Armstrong scored either side of half time with a third goal from Leigh Griffiths coming almost immediately after Armstrong’s second.

And yet, despite that 3-0 scoreline, losing a goal to Liam Lindsay made things a little more cagey. There was more than a hint of offside involved, and indeed Thistle had a very similar second correctly ruled out for offside just after it. Come to think of it, this game actually has similarities with the game at Pittodrie last week. We raced to a comfortable lead but things felt a little less comfortable for a while after they scored.

But unlike at Pittodrie, we went on to score a fourth through substitute Calum McGregor who had only just come off the bench when Thistle pulled their goal back.

When you look at the scorelines that we’ve had against the teams in the top six, Thistle have technically fared better than any of them. The four goals at Firhill looks bad, but having only conceded a single goal in each of the other games that’s just six goals over the three games. None of the others have an average of two a game. Aberdeen have lost twelve in five games, so called Rangers sixteen in six games, St Johnstone fourteen in four games, and Hearts eleven in three games. Even if you only count league games, it’s still nine in four for Aberdeen and thirteen in four for so called Rangers.

Of course, another four goals at Firhill like last time out and we could see that change again. But however many we score, the next goal if and when it comes is a landmark.

100 league goals in a season isn’t new, and indeed we did it as recently as 2014 when Neil Lennon’s final season saw us score 102 goals over the 38 games. Martin O’Neill’s team also scored 105 goals in 2003/04, while Rangers reached 101 the previous season when they edged us out of the title on goal difference.

All of those came over 38 games, and it’s probably worth noting that the only time Rangers did it in their nine in a row years was in 1991/92 when they reached 101 goals over a massive 44 games.

Compare that with Jock Stein’s nine in a row winning team who did it in each of his first full three seasons, with 106 in 1965/66, 111 in 1966/67 and 106 in 1967/68. Each of those league seasons was a full ten games less than Rangers nine in a row winners.

I’m not going to run through all of the times that teams have scored 100 goals or more in the league season, but a few things did stand out to me when I went and looked it up. There was one interesting season in 1931/32 when Rangers hit 118 goals but still lost out to champions Motherwell who scored 119! Motherwell also outscored them the following season too, 114 to 113, but it wasn’t enough to retain the title.

Indeed, in the 1930s there were no fewer than eleven teams that hit over 100 goals. It’s only been done thirty times in total so that may actually explain why our greatest ever goalscorer, Jimmy McGrory who played in that era, only won three league titles!

Incidentally, I’ve heard chat about Celtic “beating the record” this season. I’m not sure what people are talking about because the Scottish record belongs to Hearts who in 1957/58 scored no fewer than 132 goals in just 34 games. We’re not beating that!

The points record, on the other hand, is still something we can beat. Having hit 100 points against Aberdeen last week, we’re now just three points short of the record set in 2001/02 by Martin O’Neill’s team. That’s the only other time that a team has reached the century mark, although that does come with the massive caveat of it only being possible when three points for a win was introduced for the 1994/95 season.

Just for the record, I went back and worked out how often it would have happened if it had always been three points for a win. The centenary season would have seen us reach 103 points over 44 games, and the other five occurrences would all have been Rangers over either 42 or 44 games. So to have done it twice over just 38 games is remarkable.

We won’t beat the equivalent record though, since Rangers of 1920/21 would have reached 111 points over 42 games if it had been three points for a win back then. Mind you, that Rangers team did lose a game.

Which brings us to the unbeaten record. The simple fact that we have now gone 36 games unbeaten in the league means we’ve already played double the number of the games of the previous two times that it’s been done. Celtic won the 18 game 1897/98 league title with an unbeaten record of 15 wins and 3 draws, and then Rangers won the 18 game 1898/99 league title by winning all 18 games.

This season’s record just isn’t comparable to those days. Then again, Martin O’Neill’s team in 2003/04 were unbeaten after the first 32 games, but because it was a 38 game season and they lost game 33 it doesn’t even warrant a mention when talking about unbeaten records.

However, when you factor in the cup competitions as well, neither 1897/98 Celtic nor 1898/99 Rangers were undefeated in the Scottish Cup, so this season could truly be unique if we don’t lose these last three games.

So with just two league games left this season, and three games in total, we really don’t want to blow that run now away to Partick Thistle or at home to Hearts on Sunday. Tonight we play one of those teams who has actually managed to stop us winning. If we want that unbeaten league season, and I haven’t seen any indication that we don’t, we can’t afford to be complacent now.

However, how Brendan Rodgers chooses to manage the bizarre created-by-TV Thursday-Sunday-Saturday schedule that we have left may well play a big part in that. He did mention after Friday’s win that it may be a factor we have to deal with.

As for Thistle? Well, they could have got a draw at St Johnstone three weeks ago, really should have beaten Rangers two weeks ago, and maybe even should have beaten Hearts with ten men in the first game of the split. But they’ve only taken one point since clinching their top six spot, and while they still could technically catch Hearts for fifth spot if we win their two remaining games, they’re unlikely to be disappointed in finishing sixth this season.

Just don’t expect that to mean we’ll get an easy game tonight. Thistle have had a great season, but scalping an unbeaten Celtic would really cap it off for them.

Krys (Twitter @krys1888)

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