Had you asked Celtic fans at the start of this season – knowing how the fixture list was shaking out – if they would have settled for a seven point lead going into the World Cup most of us would have bitten your hand off for it. It would have seemed too good to be true.
This spell we’re in now was tabbed as being one of the most difficult of the campaign. As it is, the St Mirren loss was a shocker but something we dusted ourselves down from and moved past easily enough. There are two games left before the break comes.
We are in much better shape than most of us would have imagined, and although we have Easter Road, Pittodrie and Ibrox to visit in quick succession next month there’s a really good feeling in the air that we have coped brilliantly with the toughest period of the campaign so far; games every three days, with European football sandwiched between domestic games.
Ange knows how big it is to have come out of that on the other side. He knows how big it is to be looking ahead to the World Cup in such a nice position. Across the city, they know that to drop anything in the next two matches might be fatal.
Ange knows that if we win them then we’re sitting pretty for the rest of the season.
“We need to get through the next two games nice and strong,” he said. “We’ve had a really solid block of games. Champions League results aside our performances have been really strong through that and our league form’s been excellent.
“My gut tells me it’s probably a good time for the break because we’ve had just so much football in a short space of time. As much as the players have got through this period, there’s always a tipping point – not just physically but mentally.”
As ever, Ange is proving that he understands his players very well.
The news today that he considers the transfer business for January already in hand, freeing him up, as he says, for the summer, is further proof of how far-reaching the changes at Celtic have been of late. He is thinking beyond the immediate horizon. He is thinking about next season already and who knows what beyond that. This is a long-term project he’s on.
But in the short term it comes down to spells like the one we just went though, when things could so, so easily have gone against us. The big away games to come will provide real tests for this team, but they are tests that we already know we can pass.