Tonight we grafted. We dug. The manager made more of his astute substitutions, particularly the final one, to put Bitton on for Griffiths. For the first time in the game we took charge of the midfield properly, and that somehow gave our front men more license to roam.
This was a shaky display at times, but you know what? Nights like this win leagues. Boy oh boy, nights like this really win leagues, because it was the evening the title challenge lights went out at Tynecastle, Pittodrie and, yes, hilariously, at Ibrox.
But before we get to the Losers Club lets talk about what went on tonight for Celtic. Stuart Armstrong did for one. He played well, gave a good account of himself and capped it off with a goal. Beat that. Gamboa got a much needed 90 minutes under his belt. Gordon showed us his Jekyll and Hyde sides with some good saves and moments of unreal rashness. Ryan Christie had a quiet night; he needs to do better with these opportunities.
Callum McGregor toiled. Look, I am not going to make this kid the whipping boy but the glaring hole we have in the midfield ball winner role has already swallowed a fine technical player in Nir Bitton and this kid has been drowning in it since Deila took the ill-fated decision to shove his square peg in that rather round hole. It’s not going to work out, but Brendan keeps on trying because there’s not really anyone else who can do it.
Liam Henderson did grab his chance. I thought he had a good game. He is a solid performer, rarely spectacular but effective in that way certain midfield players are. We could do worse than to try him in the spot Callum and Nir aren’t doing well in. Or perhaps that would swallow a third footballer and give us even more headaches.
Patrick Roberts had an excellent first half, and he showed glimpses in the second. He is, of course, a tremendous talent. His time at our club is winding down, but he’s going to make the best of it and we should too. His performances are going to be overshadowed again and again though by the guy on the left hand side, Scott Sinclair, who never gives up, who powers through, who perseveres, who missed one sitter (drawing “Sebo” calls from amused Celtic fans) and still had the presence of mind to score when the next chance presented itself.
Moussa Dembele was so sharp again. And he got a goal.
It was a tough night at the office. A battle. They gave us one Hell of a game, and almost one Hell of a fright. This was a much tougher test than the one we got at the weekend.
Which brings me to our “title rivals.”
Aberdeen are blowing it like no side ever has, not only the chance to be genuine contenders but the chance to put clear blue water between them, Hearts and the Govan side-show. How much longer is the board over there going to persevere with Derek McInnes, the chronic underachiever who might well be on the way to ruining this club’s opportunity to cement second spot in Scotland far into the future? And from there, who knows what they could do?
Under this guy their fans are never going to find out.
Hearts too are in danger of dropping the ball. These two clubs should be hammering down the European places; had they kept their heads they might have had those spots wrapped up by Christmas. They are in real danger of tossing them away.
But it’s increasingly clear to all of us watching that if they do throw them away they’re probably not going to throw them to Crisis Loan FC. Because that club is in freefall. Tonight they dropped more points on us – “that’s all folks!” – but actually made one up on each of the other two clubs. They are desperately weak at the moment, capable of dropping points every week, against every club, and I will be shocked if Aberdeen and Hearts don’t open up a gap before long.
Where Warburton goes from here I don’t know, but he might start with having a word with his gobby footballers, especially Josh Windass, who said they can still win the league whether they beat Celtic or not. Because that’s the problem, right there. It isn’t games between these two clubs that matter to them at the moment, it’s games against everyone else and there are a lot of players in their dressing room who, for reasons passing understanding, think they only have to show up on a match-day to take home the points.
Josh Windass was an Accrington Stanley player not long ago. His disrespect for every club in the SPL bar ours (and including ours, to be blunt) is appalling and nights like tonight should be a shock to the system for him and for others, but I suspect it won’t be.
These guys are in for a shock though, one way or another.
The next few weeks are going to test our club and our squad. We have an enormous match in Germany this time next week. The matches are piling up, but domestically anyway we look well capable of coping with the challenges.
It’s after Christmas that I worry. If we’ve got no European football the players will have to show extraordinary focus to maintain their form, because most weeks we’re going to be playing in games which mean little to them, unless records are in sight and we have a chance of breaking them. Without being complacent, that might be on the cards.
Trebles aren’t won by teams which lose focus, and that should be drummed into these guys over and over and over again.
This is shaping up to be a special season.
Those are defined by how a team reacts under pressure.
Nobody is putting us under any.
We’re going to have to do that to ourselves.