Here We Go, Six in a Row

Two weeks ago it was interesting to see a difference in opinion as to what way Celtic fans wanted the Aberdeen v Hearts game to go.

On the one hand, there were those who wanted Aberdeen to lose the game and set up a title clinching chance for us at Dens Park. I said in my blog at the time that wasn’t going to happen and so it proved with Aberdeen running out 2-0 winners, but to be honest I was hoping I was wrong.

That win pleased the other camp though. The camp that wants Aberdeen to finish second and leave our city rivals languishing in third place. And possibly the camp that doesn’t like Hearts, but then again there are plenty of Celtic fans that don’t like Aberdeen and didn’t want to see them win either!

This week will see yet more differences, but I suspect more will want Aberdeen to win than to lose this time. That’s my personal hope as I’ve switched from wanting Aberdeen to lose two weeks ago to wanting them not to lose tonight. You see, as much as I previously wanted us to win the title as soon as possible and ideally in March, there’s a lot more satisfaction in doing it yourself.

There are three ways to win a title. One, win it in yourself in front of as many of your own fans as possible. For me, there is nothing better than winning the league title in front of a packed Celtic Park. But for that to happen this time, we’d need to drop more points, and I don’t really fancy doing that against Hearts.

The second way to win the title is to win it away from home. This is the opportunity that almost lies in front of us now. Take three points from Tynecastle on Sunday and a sixth consecutive league title is secured as even Aberdeen wouldn’t be able to catch us on points no matter what they do tonight.

But there is a third way, and it’s the way we did it two seasons ago. After beating Dundee on the Friday night to get within touching distance, Celtic got over the line thanks to Aberdeen losing to Dundee United on the Saturday.

Maybe it’s just me, and although I understand that leagues are won over the course of the season, clinching the title while you watch on at home on your sofa because your last remaining rivals dropped the points you required is just a little anticlimactic.

Don’t get me wrong, Leicester City probably didn’t complain when they won the English title for the first time in their history this way last season, but when you’ve won titles in the past it as we have it’s more fun to cross the line yourself than for the line to move towards you.

The good news is that unlike two years ago we’d actually get to see it as Aberdeen play tonight and not in a Saturday 3pm non-broadcast match. The other good news is that it would take an Aberdeen defeat to Dundee for the title to be clinched on March 31st. A draw in tonight’s match and we would still have work to be done on April 2nd, albeit less work since a draw would also be good enough for us to do six in a row. Basically this weekend we need to match Aberdeen’s result.

But who wants a draw? This is Celtic at Tynecastle, a venue where we always want to win and to win well. A venue where the locals aren’t shy in telling us what they think of us, a venue where sometimes they even show you physically.

And that’s just the local constabulary.

I just hope they’ve sorted out the ticketing fiasco that has blighted their away end in the last twelve months. Last season we had fans with genuine tickets locked outside for the game where we effectively clinched the title by moving clear enough of Aberdeen that we could only be caught on goal difference, while both Hibernian and so called Rangers have both been to Tynecastle and had similar problems.

Of course, in our game last season Ann Budge blamed us for having fake tickets rather than their own systems and checks for weeding out those fakes. Or perhaps more accurately, since on each occasion there have been empty seats in the away end, investigated why her own staff can’t count through the gates properly.

Not that we don’t have our own issues. The allocation for Tynecastle has been seriously questioned as many regulars all season have suddenly found themselves unable to get a ticket due to the uptake from our investors and other corporate ticket fans who always get first refusal of away tickets regardless of whether or not they have a history of taking them.

I appreciate that people pay more for that privilege, but that’s not the only privilege they pay for and surely we should be checking whether they actually take any on other occasions? Our allocation system should reward actual attendance where possible, although all that happens most of the time is investors take the tickets and pass them on – thereby getting the tick in the box to say they were there.

I can’t criticise that without being a hypocrite though. When I used to go to away games it was often the case that I took two tickets even though my travelling companion was working during those games!

Regardless of whether we go into the game as champions or with the chance to be crowned champions, to get the three points we’ll have to play significantly better than we have in our last couple of outings. The draw at home to our city rivals was disappointing, but the similar lacklustre performance at Dens Park that followed it was possibly more so. We looked like we were having the same problems with breaking down the opposition due in large part to the same players not quite being at their best.

Is the unbeaten run getting to us? Do we just need a break? Will the international break have been good for those who have gone off to play for their country, or will it be beneficial for those who didn’t get the call? I think only Brendan Rodgers can answer those questions, and hopefully we’ll get the right answers out on The Tynecastle pitch this weekend.

The Hearts team we’ll face are something of a Jekyll and Hyde outfit at the moment. Ian Cathro might be getting the criticism at the moment, but the difference between Hearts home and away form dates back to Robbie Neilson too. Four away wins all season still stands as a poor return for a team who were chasing runners up spot but are now languishing in fifth place.

Then again, it must be their home form that has seen them slip if their away form was already poor. Since Neilson left at the end of November, Hearts have picked up just five wins, and one of those was after extra time against Raith Rovers. Admittedly, one of those other wins was a 4-1 hammering of so called Rangers at Tynecastle, which just goes to emphasise their Jekyll and Hyde status. They lost at home to Aberdeen at the end of December and lost at home to Ross County at the start of March, but also won comfortably at home against Hamilton and Kilmarnock, so when they play they play well.

In that same period, they came to Celtic Park but only succeeded in showing everyone how poor they are on their travels. The 4-0 scoreline was well deserved on our part, even if it did take a while to secure the victory. Calum McGregor gave us the lead on the half hour mark, while Scott Sinclair didn’t make it 2-0 until there was less than quarter of an hour to go. Patrick Roberts quickly made it three, while Jack Aitchison won an injury time penalty which Sinclair converted to round off the scoring.

It was a far cry from the Hearts performance that we saw on the opening day of our domestic season.

We were perhaps fortunate that an offside Stuart Armstrong wasn’t judged to have been interfering when James Forrest curled in the opening goal, but any sense of injustice swung our way when Jamie Walker took a dive in the penalty box and was awarded the spot kick which he duly converted. He was later given a two game ban for that dive, but fortunately no harm was done in the scoreline since Scott Sinclair came on to make his debut and grabbed the winner with ten minutes to go.

But this game was as tight as the scoreline suggested, with former Celt Tony Watt missing a great chance before the penalty and Connor Sammon giving us constant problems throughout. Neither of whom are still at Hearts of course, but then again Hearts have had quite a few changes to their line-up since we faced them at Celtic Park, including Esmael Goncalves who gave us plenty of problems in his St Mirren days four years ago.

It seems somewhat fitting that this league season should shape up to climax where it began. Our winning spirit to fight on until the end was shown on that day back in August to get us the first win of the domestic campaign and that spirit has served us well on many occasions since then.

One more strong finish and we can celebrate equalling the achievements of Willie Maley’s Celtic back in 1910, the first team anywhere in the world to win six league titles in a row, as well of course as Jock Stein’s Celtic in 1971 as they clinched their sixth consecutive title on the way ultimately to nine.

Krys (Twitter @krys1888)

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