Hat-trick of titles: Celtic have upped their game

The three-in-a-row factor will raise the same doubts about competition in Scotland’s top-flight but Celtic have made minor improvements in the Premiership this season.

Champions: Celtic have now won three Scottish titles in a row under the stewardship of Neil Lennon

The celebratory feeling after clinching a Scottish title is one of inevitablity and familiarity for Celtic in this day and age.

Even the fact they brushed aside their local rivals to retain the trophy had an air of normality about it.

Only this time it was near-neighbours Partick Thistle and not Old Firm adversaries Rangers on the receiving end of a hiding that has been dished out more often than ever before this season.

Add the thrashings of Kilmarnock, Ross County, Hearts, Motherwell, St Mirren, Hibernian and Inverness (by at least a four-goal margin) to the equation – and that’s quite a list.

Many bemoan the lack of competition, in the absence of the Ibrox warriors, for Celtic’s unchallenged charge to the top of the tree.

But, the old cliche, you can only beat what is put in front of you. And the standard of the opposition has grown massively.

McDiarmid ParkAberdeen have enjoyed a hugely successful campaign with silverware to show for it, and eyes on further glory. The youthful exubrance of Dundee United are on the rise, Motherwell have progressively built on their stability and Inverness have sustained their top-six status from last term. St Johnstone have been as steady as ever under Tommy Wright thanks largely to the goalscoring exploits of one Stevie May.

The aforementioned cluster of teams have marginally closed the gap and enhanced their stature on relatively low budgets, which must be praised.

Their development, primed with future reward in mind, has forced Celtic to raise their game and Neil Lennon to spend, with the January additions of Leigh Griffiths and Stefan Johansen illustrating as such.

Yet the stark reality is – the Bhoys are light years away from being caught.

Claiming five more points than last season already suggests significant improvement has been made, with the chances of chalking up the century still a feasible possibility. The defence has been rock-solid and the goals have been flying in.

Only the Dons have got the better of the Hoops this term. Rewind twelve months ago, St Johnstone, Killie, Inverness, Hibs, Motherwell and Ross County had already outwitted them to take maximum points.

The acquisition of Virgil van Dijk, a name regularly mentioned in Premier League gossip columns, has captured the imagination. Skipper Scott Brown has enjoyed his best season since arriving from Leith while Kris Commons is leading the way in the Player of the Year stakes by a country mile. Enough reasons to cheer?

barcelona 6-1 celticJust minutes after the full-time whistle confirmed championship number 45, pundits were quick to reflect on a underwhelming season, overshadowed by European failure and domestic cup disappointment while their attempts to replicate ‘the Invincibles’ fell short.

However, keeping their hands on the league crown was always Celtic’s main aim, and that has been met. As emphatic as ever.

Two years ago, it was sealed on 21 April with a 6-0 rout at Rugby Park, and last season on April 7, infront of a partisan Parkhead crowd following a 4-1 victory over Caley Thistle.

This time around, coronation day (or evening should I say) came just five miles across the city in Maryhill, with seven games still to negotiate.

An eventual 5-1 win. They simply don’t do low-key when there’s destiny to be decided.

Lennon asked for “a bit of style” and he got more than he bargained for, with the away fans getting in the party mood inside three minutes when Anthony Stokes suddenly became invisible – to the Partick Thistle defence anyway – to nod home.

It was an occasion Liam Henderson is likely to cherish forever, the 17-year-old capping his fourth first-team appearance with his first senior goal just four minutes after coming on at the break. That’s how to make an impact.

Johansen has pedigree with the highly-acclaimed 2013 Norwegian Player of the Year accolade to his name. Stepping into the shoes of Joe Ledley was always going to be a tough ask. He’s had no such difficulty. Two goals in two games has set the record straight, the box-to-box midfielder is the full package.

Georgios Samaras, seeking pastures new come the season’s end, marked his arrival off the bench with two assists. Setting up Stokes and Commons to get in on the act with quick-fire stunners in stoppage time, putting the icing on the title cake that has been gathering layers since the first ball was kicked in August.

Fans swamped the pitch at full-time to savour the moment, prompting the lap of honour to be scrapped as the cork-popping begun down the stairs in the enclosed away dressing room. Behind closed doors (in the company of a Sky Sports cameraman).

All very subdued, it has to be said. A sight that Scottish football has become accustomed to seeing, and may have to get used to.

celtic fansAs the players re-emerged for press duties, the posing for photographs with the trophy may have taken place in front of the Firhill stewards on Wednesday but the party will be in full swing on Saturday, with more than 40,000 attendees expected.

Ross County spared themselves from being in the firing line after holding Aberdeen in Dingwall on Tuesday but will hope to be releasing ammunition of their own to spoil the festivities in Glasgow’s East End.

They gave the champions a guard of honour on their last Celtic Park visit when the journey began on the opening day, now they’ll have to do it again as the Hoops embark on another dead-rubber. With all the battles accomplished, there is nothing left to fight for.

Three in a row and counting. With Rangers on their way up, could next year spell the end of their short-lived dynasty, or will the Celtic bandwagon keep rolling along?Glasgow

 

Barcelona vs Celtic Image by Marc Puig i Perez via Creative Commons/License

Celtic 2012-13 Title celebrations Image by Brian Hargadon via Creative Commons/License

McDiarmid Park Image by leguan001 via Creative Commons/License

Celtic Fans at Celtic Park Image by Brian Hargadon via Creative Commons/License

Celtic Park Image by David Mackay via Creative Commons/License

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