In the last seven days, the dominos have started to fall one by one, and the countdown clock now reads single digits. Ten games became nine games became eight games. The biggest friend we have now is the inexorable ticking of that clock; it does not pause or wait around for others to be ready. It runs down. It is a like an hour glass, turned up to let the sand fall out, heading for empty.
Two league games from now, we roll into Ibrox where a win will virtually put a bow on this. Before we get there, we have a league and a cup game to overcome and in the meantime they have four games. In terms of the league race there is, however, only that one which matters. The chances are good – very good in fact – that we will get to Ibrox with our lead.
External factors may yet influence events, but nobody should be counting on it. Even the global health crisis, which has been suspended over all of us like the Sword of Damocles has become a background irritant, no longer the kind of thing that can derail us.
One thing can derail us now; us. That’s as simply as I can put it. With a three point lead and superior goal difference we will win this league unless by a self inflicted wound. Even them beating us at Ibrox looks unlikely to be enough unless it’s by a right few goals. By the time that game ends there will be six left, and we’ll play four of them at home including one against them.
It’s as The Stones once sang; time is on our side (yes it is.)
Back when this campaign was still in its infancy – it seems like years ago – I said that the first team that went on a long, extended unbeaten run would do it. We’re well into that run now. What’s more important is that much of it was a winning run, and those games might not always have been pretty but at the end of each of them was three points and three points was enough. They didn’t all have to be sexy football. We didn’t have to win them in style.
Little by little, it was about chipping away at their lead. Now it’s about extending ours or at the very worst holding onto it. No team which spends that long knocking down a lead to establish our own should be giving that up in the space of a handful of games.
Even on those occasions in recent weeks where we haven’t looked particularly good, we still look too good to do that. We still look too good to throw this away.
Ibrox is clinging to hope more than expectation,. They are clutching at straws. One of their biggest hopes fell away from them today when we emerged from Livingston with three points, and the manner in which we did it suggests that we have nothing to fear even if their team makes the top six and the “SPL computer” sees fit to send us there again. You know, by sheer coincidence. Even in those circumstances, I still expect us to win.
And every win we have scores another game off the list. Every time we put three points on the board another of the dominos falls. We could certainly afford to lose one of the next eight, as long as one is all it is. We’ve not lost in months.
With eight left and two games against them, a win in one of those games puts us over the hills and far away. Bye bye losers, it was a nice effort, try again next year, because at this point even two draws leaves us three points ahead and the games count down to a pitiful five providing we win the one before we play them next.
Assume also that theirs is the first game after the split. If we win the next game on our fixture list we are down to six. Whatever the result at Ibrox and we are down to five. Even a defeat means we can restore our three point lead with a win at Celtic Park.
Do that and we’re on three again with, you’d assume, a goal difference advantage which is as good as another point. At that stage you have that lead and just four games left to go. You can afford perhaps to draw two of them and still feel like it is in your hands.
This is all just number crunching theory at this point, but you look at our form and you cannot help but come to the conclusion that the advantage we had when we were still behind by seven points or six points or four points is not available to them here; time to turn this around.
The hard reality for them here is that we have been the better team over the course so far – by quite a distance – and that it will take us to end the season the way we started it for them to be able to win this title, and that looks highly unlikely as the circumstances which were unique to that time no longer apply. We have been transformed … and this team does not look like losing this.
Bear in mind too that we still have players settling in and still players out inured and some of them are expected back before the month ends, and thus before we roll into Ibrox. If Kyogo and Turnbull are with us for the run-in, as well as Jullien and others, we will be in even better shape to get through the post split fixtures than we are right now.
Time is not with them. Circumstances are not with them. We played, and won, one of the toughest games we had left on the calendar today and it was a big result in and of itself but it also took us a big step closer to the finish, and that might be the biggest advantage of all.
All they have left is hope. And one game at a time, we are stripping it away from them. This title is coming to Celtic Park, unless we fall to pieces and I see no sign at all that we will.