The Phoney War

Two games left to play this season, both against the same opposition, both in Glasgow, both with a trophy presentation afterwards.

But that’s about where the similarities end.

We might be playing Hearts today, but this is the most meaningless game of the three being played. Aberdeen and Kilmarnock are both locked in a battle for third place, with Kilmarnock holding the edge on goal difference. Whoever finishes third will be guaranteed a place in Europe next season, while the team that finishes fourth will be cheering us on next week.

If Hearts win the cup, they’ll be in Europe next season. If we win it, the team that finish fourth will get that place instead.

Today then is really only about one thing – the league trophy being brought into Celtic Park by the most fitting of men. In recent times, no number eight has quite captured the imagination like Paul McStay, so it’s great to see he’ll be the man to be part of the ceremony for our eighth league title in a row.

Handing over to our present number eight of course!

In between, we’ll play a Hearts team that will have very little resemblance to the team we’ll face in the cup final at Hampden next weekend. The likes of Djoum and Ikpeazu are major doubts for that game so while they may well see action next week they almost certainly won’t this week.

Resting players do you don’t risk them changes your mentality across the team. We saw that last weekend ourselves. The minute Neil Lennon decides to rest James Forrest and Kieran Tierney for our trip to Ibrox it was clear only one team was treating that game seriously and it wasn’t us.

That doesn’t excuse the individual errors or efforts of those that did play for Celtic last Sunday, but it should at least put the nature of the game in the right perspective.

Today won’t be much better, but then it will be between two teams with little to do. We’ve already won the league, Hearts could still catch Hibernian but at three points behind and twenty goals worse off it would need something truly bizarre to happen for Hearts to overhaul their city rivals. Fifth place really isn’t really worth the effort when you know you’ve a far better shot at silverware next week.

I imagine today’s game will be played out with neither manager wanting to risk much or give too much away about next week. They cynical might decide to kick key players in the opponent’s team to try and remove them from the equation next weekend, which is all the more reason to ensure they are out of the firing range today.

Our league work is done for this season. We’ll be getting the trophy to prove it later on today.

This week, and indeed last week, only serve to remind me of the 2003/04 season. We went unbeaten in the league up to and including the game that clinched the title at Rugby Park. The next game out we made a few changes and lost 2-1 at home to Aberdeen. It was annoying but nothing more than that. I lived long enough to see us go the whole season unbeaten anyway.

A short while later we faced a Dunfermline Athletic side that we would face on the final day of the season at Hampden in the cup final. It was trophy day for us too, and we went on to lose that game 2-1 as well. They were the only two league games we lost all season.

For Dunfermline, the underdog for the cup, it gave them belief that they could beat us. For Celtic, it was just a bit of a damp squib before the title party started. Did it play a part in the subsequent cup final? Well Dunfermline took the lead that day, thanks mainly to a foul on our goalkeeper David Marshall going unpunished, but there was no way that final was going to end any other way than a Celtic victory.

Not on Henrik Larsson’s last day in the job.

Henrik turned the game around, Stiliyan Petrov finished the job late on for a 3-1 win, and Henrik rode off into the sunset with his theme tune playing in all our heads.

Whatever happens today, we’ll get our league trophy. Whatever happens today, next week will be a totally different story. Whatever happens today, don’t take it for granted – there’s only been fifty of these days in 131 years.

And no one knows that better than Paul McStay. He knew success, yes, but as captain of our club he only got to lift one trophy – the Scottish Cup in 1995. Sadly he had to retire just before we finally won the title again for the first time in a decade.

I’m sure he won’t take our current success for granted. None of us should. Not in the stands, on the park, in the dugout, nor in the boardroom.

I sincerely hope the point that Neil Lennon was trying to make through the week wasn’t solely aimed at the paying fans. I think some of the biggest culprits for taking things for granted are higher up at Celtic than even Lenny.

Krys (Twitter @krys1888)

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