I enjoyed the Scotland game the other night very much, and I thought it was the sort of match that the national team would have lost a few years back, before Clarke steadied the ship first and then pointed it in the right direction. He’s done a fine job.
The end of the game meant the end of the international break. Thank God. I do like to watch Scotland, but they aren’t a substitute for watching Celtic and the one thing for sure is that in the next month we’re going to have plenty of opportunities to see our own team.
We have two matches now before the end of this month, at home against Motherwell and then away against Lazio. Two important games for their own reasons. That sees us through to the end of November, and pushes us into December.
It has been one Hell of a month. Next month is going to be flat out crazy, opening with St Johnstone away on 3 December and not letting up. We hurtle straight into the game against Hibs three days later, at Celtic Park. Four days after that we take on McInnes’ mob on their horrendous plastic pitch, our first visit there since going out of the League Cup.
Three days later is our final European game, against the Dutch club Feyenoord, at home. That’s on 13 December. On 16 December we have Hearts at home. The seven-day rest before Livingston come to Celtic Park on 23 December is our only midweek off.
It’s Dundee away, three days later, and three after that it’s the Ibrox club coming to our home ground on 30 December before we round off the games until the winter break with St Mirren away.
That’s a mammoth number of games in a short time; weeks like these, where it seems to go on forever, are a thing of the past for a while. The sheer number of Celtic we’re going to play before the turn of the year could turn this into a make-or-break spell.
Fortunately, most of these games are at home but we should not underestimate the St Mirren and Kilmarnock away days, not in fact any of our opponents even at Celtic Park.
This is the kind of run that tests squads to the limit.
I think ours is good enough and strong enough, but the injury to Palma last night was the kind of thing we can do without. We don’t know timeframes on certain injuries or when players are expected to be back, but it’s not impossible that we will go through the year without Maeda, Abada and Hatate.
When modern critics of the number of games complain that players aren’t getting adequate rest – with even summers no longer sacrosanct, as filled with tournaments and tours and cash-grabs as they are, not to mention European qualifiers which get earlier all the time, this is the kind of schedule they are talking about.
If we get through it with a series of wins, then that’s huge. Because the side across the city has an even more nightmarish fixture schedule, involving having to travel to several of the toughest away grounds. We remain the only story, the onus remains on us to do our own business and let them worry about their own form.
It will require us keeping everyone fit. Rotating the squad to make sure people aren’t burned out. To keep winning, and doing so in a way that doesn’t leave us scrapping for points. But we’re good enough.
We’ve seen that on the away run from the first section … although it’s hard to remember us playing so many games in a short space of time.
I think our squad is in better nick than the one across town, even with critical injuries. That, I reckon, is what will tell over the course of the coming month. And the coming month might well be the one that decides the destination of the title.