I was sitting in a bar in Blackpool on Friday night, watching as Aberdeen threw away their best chance at a league title since Rangers took it from them in 1991. That year, they tossed it away on the final day, at Ibrox, when all they needed was a draw.
They faced an uphill battle if they were going to take our title. Friday night would not have put them on course for it, but it would have made Sunday’s game more of a sweat than it had to be and we might have struggled to get the three points under that kind of scrutiny and pressure. We’ll never know, but Aberdeen will long consider this an opportunity lost.
For Celtic fans this is the title we might not have won.
Another year, we might not. Because we’ve been poor and at times much worse than that.
Leigh Griffiths’ double kept us on course, and it was nice that he’s returned to goal scoring form in time for next week’s cup semi-final. Patrick Roberts continues to impress everyone who watches him, and he has to be considered a must-pick for that game. Tierney and a handful of others are shining through at the correct moment.
But this is still a Celtic team where the parts are greater than the sum.
They are still turgid, awful to watch at times.
There have been games this season when I was sure we couldn’t get worse, and for every one of them was one where we did.
Aberdeen have had several chances to put us under real, sustained pressure over the course of the campaign and their failure to do it, even once, is the only reason our manager is still in a job today. This was not so much a title race as it was race to a finish line neither club seemed terribly keen to reach, one where they were constantly tripping over their laces and winding up face down in the mud. Celtic has the resources to get across … but that, in itself, is no great triumph.
Better sides than ours have failed in their domestic title races.
That doesn’t fill me with confidence either.
I look at Leicester in England, and I understand that this is all it takes; one team, not even a particularly skilled one, to have a really good year, the right mix of team spirit and decent tactics in the same season we’re struggling … and the ten in a row (and beyond) dream is over.
We need to be better than we are right now to forestall that, because we’ve got far enough backwards that we can be caught by such a side.
A challenge is coming, from the east coast or perhaps from the north east.
It won’t be from Glasgow, no matter what the media would have you believe, not that it matters anyway.
The consequence of Hearts taking our title would be no less painful or unforgivable than it would be if it was wrenched from us by another team from this city. The simple fact is that we can hold off all comers in Scotland far into the future, if we’re vigilant and strong.
The ten-in-a-row ambition ought to be the least of what we achieve here at home.
Which brings me to Europe, which is where most of us ultimately want the team and the club to be judged. There can’t be a single supporter out there who thinks that we’re going to get to the Champions League Groups next season unless things drastically change.
This is an important week in what’s increasingly becoming a season that really needs to close the book on one era at our club and start a new one.
Watching the Hearts and Aberdeen match, I came back again to the idea I expressed a few weeks ago about how the crowds at Ibrox are steady, how fans are flocking back to Pittodrie and of how Tynecastle on Friday was a packed house.
Our board might kid itself on that we simply need a challenge (what do they call Aberdeen’s pushing us to the brink of the split this season?) before the attendances go up again, but it’s patently nonsense. Those clubs, rightly or wrongly, have their fans convinced.
We’re not convinced. It’s that simple.
This club of ours can only carry on like a feeder team for the EPL sides for so long, putting balance sheet before team sheet, before people simply conclude there’s no ambition here or building going on. We’re a football club supporting a business, in a cycle of mediocrity, and teams caught in that spiral get found out.
We are very goddamned lucky we haven’t been.
This whole club needs a huge lift in the close season, starting with new ideas at the top.
A challenge is coming, a real one, and frankly I don’t trust our current “leaders” to meet it.