Not Quite Flag Day

Game six of the nine games we have to play in December is the second of our games in hand over our rivals this month, and finally sees us play our opening home game of the season.

No, that doesn’t meant it’s flag day. I’m not getting started on that madness from the start of the season again!

Partick Thistle, whom we played just eleven days ago, are the visitors to Celtic Park and will be looking to avenge the perceived injustices of the 4-1 defeat we inflicted on them at Firhill.

Well that’s the way some will be spinning it.

Most of the calls of injustice stem from the booking for Ade Azeez in the latter stages of the game when he was judged to have dived as Craig Gordon came rushing out of the area and never got anything on the ball. That booking for simulation was successfully appealed as the SFA court decided it was not simulation after all.

How they came to that conclusion is anyone’s guess. TV pictures on the night were, at best, inconclusive. Most of the angles were far too blurred to tell, while the angle behind Gordon and in front of Azeez failed to show any contact between the players whatsoever.

That didn’t stop the pundits all saying there was clear contact and following that up with comments on how Gordon was lucky not to have been sent off for it.

Never mind that you can’t clearly see contact. Never mind that the Celtic defence had it covered because Azeez had kicked the ball too far in front of him in an effort to get past Gordon. Never mind that’s probably why he decided to go down when Gordon pulled his leg out of the way. Never mind that even if he’d stayed on his feet he wasn’t going to score. Nope, Gordon should have walked in their opinion.

That incident came with just ten minutes of the game remaining. By that point, Celtic were 3-1 up and had settled down after the scoring of the offside Partick Thistle goal – there were only the four of them offside when the ball was played in including, crucially, the goalscorer – and then had survived a second offside incident where the ball had ended up in our net as the linesman at least got one of the two right.

Prior to those two well defended free kicks where our defence held the line correctly and Thistle only scored because the linesman got it wrong, Celtic had been cruising courtesy of a goal by Stuart Armstrong either side of half time. No sooner had he got his second when a Leigh Griffiths turn and finish resulted in a third goal and should also have resulted in his marker paying to get back into the game. Before the match was over, and just after the Azeez booking, Callum McGregor added a fourth to finally end any doubt as to the final result.

Clearly we’ve been scoring freely on the road, with those four at Firhill following the four at Fir Park the previous weekend, but at home it’s been much quieter. Griffiths got the only goal of the game against Hamilton last midweek, while Nir Bitton added to the Griffiths free kick on Saturday against Dundee. It’s led to some nervy finishes of late, with Eamonn Brophy going close late on for Hamilton and Faissal El Bakhtaoui somehow blazing his late chance over the bar for Dundee after Marcus Haber had pulled the game back to 2-1.

Are the sheer number of games this month starting to have their toll? Of our five games this month so far, we had a small scare with Thistle putting the ball in the net twice while the other three domestic games have all been won by a single goal. The draw in Manchester will also have added to the draining factor both mentally and physically, and with another three games to come after Thistle surely it’s asking a lot to keep winning all of these games?

I said several weeks ago that this is precisely why I’m delighted we’ve been getting the points on the board early and building up a good lead at the top, because there’s bound to come a point in time where so many games result in us dropping points somewhere down the road.

And yet there’s still an expectation on the current Celtic team to keep winning. That’s nothing unusual for Celtic of course, but this team have an amazing record so far and with each passing game the pressure to keep it up must be growing further. The fact this game is one of those we have in hand also adds to the pressure to turn that advantage into actual points, despite the fact that we’ll be at least eleven points clear of second spot regardless of what happens tonight!

Of course, there are other factors as well. Tom Rogic was the latest to pick up an injury at the weekend, while Scott Sinclair has only just returned having been out since going off at half time in the Barcelona match last month. Armstrong was filling in for the suspended Scott Brown as captain on Saturday and I’m sure we’ll all welcome the captain’s presence back in the side tonight.

But perhaps the thing most notable is the way the media are building things up. Despite being eleven points behind having played two games more and having been hammered 5-1 and knocked out of the League Cup by us in a one-sided semi final, the Hogmanay game is clearly looming large for a supposedly resurgent Rangers.

True, they’ve beaten Aberdeen and Hearts at home in recent weeks. But Ross County managed a 2-2 draw against Hearts, beat Aberdeen at the weekend, and gave us far more of a game in Dingwall than Rangers managed in either match against us this season, yet I don’t see many people talking up their upcoming match against us.

No, instead we have Kris Boyd’s belly rumblings published as informative and insightful thoughts. And that belly seems to be rumbling a lot of late.

I’ve no doubt that going to Ibrox for the first time since March 2012 will be a challenge for any number of reasons, including the fact that they’ll be the highest placed team in the league that we’ll play this month. But I’ve seen nothing to suggest their challenge will be any more than it was in the first two games.

My main concern isn’t with them, but with whether or not we’ll be knackered by the time we get there. After all, we’ve still three games to play before then!

Krys (Twitter @krys1888)

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