Seven league titles in a row. It’s only the second time in the club’s history that we can claim that, and only the third time in Scottish football history. On each of those two previous occasions, eight followed seven. Today we start the quest to continue that pattern.
Of course, before we do that we’ll mark the seventh league title in the traditional manner – by getting someone associated with the club to unfurl the league flag. In this instance, that someone is the legendary Danny McGrain, who played for Celtic the last time we found ourselves starting the quest for eight in a row. These days Danny is part of the backroom staff, but it will be nice to see him get his own time in the spotlight.
After that ceremony, our opening league match sees us face Livingston for the first time in nearly ten years. A 4-0 win in the League Cup back in September 2008 saw goals from Glenn Loovens, two from Giorgios Samaras, and we even had one from our current captain Scott Brown.
Prior to that, there was a 4-1 Scottish Cup win in Livingston in February 2007, with goals coming from Derek Riordan, Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink, and Darren O’Dea. You have to go back twelve years to March 2006 to find our last league match against Livingston, which was a 2-0 win through there, the goals coming from Maciej Zurawski and Shaun Maloney.
It’s been a long twelve years for our opponents. Livingston were relegated from the top flight at the end of that 2005/06 season and have been on quite the trip through the divisions since then. Three seasons in the second tier were bad enough, but then administration hit them in the summer of 2009. The SFL hit them so hard for that insolvency that they were demoted down to the bottom tier despite finishing seventh in the second tier with no danger of relegation.
That seemed unduly harsh on the new owners of the club who had taken over the mess of Angelo Massone and paid all the bills they were asked to pay including a security bond with the SFL themselves, but despite that massive setback the club managed to get themselves moving again and won the fourth tier at the first time of asking. The following season saw them win the third tier and they were back in the second tier as fast as they could be.
That wasn’t the end of the story though as they went back down to the third tier via defeat in the playoff in 2015/16. That defeat saw David Hopkin installed as manager for the 2016/17 season, a move that was so successful that he not only guided Livingston straight back up as League One champions, but they also unexpectedly won the Premiership playoff last season to finally return to the top flight.
Unfortunately for Livingston, Hopkin then opted to leave rather they try his hand in the top flight. Maybe he felt he’d done all he could, or maybe he had his head turned by other offers, but if it was the latter then something went wrong as he’s currently unemployed.
Instead, Livingston presented a former striker of ours with the chance to enter management while still carrying on his playing career. Well I say ours, but he’s probably more well known as the only man to play for not only us but also both clubs playing out of Ibrox.
Yep, Kenny Miller is the player manager of Livingston. And his first league match takes him back to Celtic Park. Will he play himself today? Or will he wait and see how the game is going before deciding to bring himself on? Certainly he has already played and scored for Livingston, starting himself against Annan Athletic and scoring the only goal of the game.
He’s not the only Miller we have to look out for today either. Lee Miller is also on the books at Livingston, and has also scored there already this season in the 2-1 win away to the second incarnation of Airdrie.
I really wish these new clubs would use different names. Airdrie used to when they were Airdrie United, but now refer to themselves as Airdrieonians just as their previous incarnation did. It all leads to “same club” confusion. The only “same club” this Airdrie are, is the Clydebank.
Something Livingston know all about too. Livingston in their current format came into being in 1995, but for two decades prior to that they were Meadowbank Thistle playing out of Edinburgh, and for the thirty years prior to that they were Ferranti Thistle. That first name change was due to SFL rules, whereas the latter was because they wanted to move to a new town and start again.
A bit like Clyde, if they’d decided to call themselves Cumbernauld.
Regardless of who they are or what they’re called, Livingston are the bookies favourites to go straight back down to the second tier again. On paper, this is our easiest league game of the season, but football is played on grass. Kenny Miller will no doubt have his players up of this challenge and will be passing on his knowledge of playing both for and against us.
Then there’s where we are in our season. This league match is almost a distraction from out primary goal of reaching the Champions League group stages. We’re half way there having beaten both Alashkert and Rosenborg in the first two rounds. The challenge of AEK Athens awaits next week, and we’ll also find out on Monday who we might face in the Champions League and Europa League playoff rounds depending on how our tie against the Greeks plays out.
With such a busy schedule of qualifiers, you wouldn’t be surprised if even today we saw a few changes. Odsonne Edouard is our only fit striker with Moussa Dembele now reportedly out of both legs against AEK Athens with Leigh Griffiths still lacking in fitness after returning from injury himself. Maybe we’ll see him for a bit today.
Kieran Tierney may get a rest, but with no obvious replacement I’d still suggest that is one area of our squad where we need to strengthen. The central defence is probably the one place on the park where we need a real quality signing, but at least we can see Jozo Simunovic return today after two games suspended – and there’s a name that’s likely to give Kenny Miller nightmares. It’s probably too soon for Dedryck Boyata, but maybe not.
Mikael Lustig is ahead of him on his return from the World Cup, which might give Cristian Gamboa a rest, while there are rumours that Jonny Hayes may feature today for the first time competitively since his leg break in December.
Whatever team we see today, three points to get our league campaign off the best possible start is our aim. Too many points were dropped at home last season due to a lack of goals rather than goals conceded, and you would hope that further up the park we see an improvement. The likelihood is that Livingston will try to stifle us, and that was often what caused us problems last season. So today might be a good test of how much we’ve improved in that area.
Flag day is always a highlight on the calendar for me. One last chance to mark the achievement of the previous season, before putting it to rest and concentrating on making sure we have another flag day this time next year.
Krys (Twitter @krys1888)