Happy New Year – Top of the League!
By Armchair Bandit
Take your mind back to Saturday, 5th November; the currant buns go 15 points clear in the league. I think even the most die-hard amongst us thought at that time it was going to be a struggle for us to even make a contest of the league.
Other bloggers were more interested in the circumstances at The Reichstag surrounding the tax case; unfortunately this led to unhealthy numbers in our own support turning into conspiracy theorists, generating more paranoia than we were ever credited with in the past by the laptop loyal media.
On the park things were going terribly, Neil Lennon appeared to have lost the dressing room as the team seemed incapable of following simple instructions and were in a bad habit of giving teams a 1 goal start before they started to play.
So on November 6th, Celtic travelled through to Motherwell to take on a team that, under the stewardship of Stuart McCall, you just knew would be champing at the bit to get in about a Celtic team who were on the ropes.
We were quickly 1 – 0 down after Higdon scored in the 9th minute, Celtic quickly got the ball up field though and Tony Stokes stuck in an equaliser. The game was pretty poor from memory but late on Gary Hooper popped up with a winner and from that point onwards we have been resurgent.
Celtic quickly started to play like a team and we were picking up points and taking advantage when the rent-a-thugs from Govan slipped up, something we have been guilty of in the past. Young players like Wanyama and Forrest stood up to the plate, Fraser Forster put in some excellent performances and Sammi started turning in the sort of performances that we knew he was capable of but never quite delivered.
Quickly roll forward to Monday, January 2nd and Celtic are 2 points clear at the summit of the SPL. We played our latest game at East End Park and came through it with flying colours. This game had all the makings of a banana skin, live on TV, Monday afternoon on a bank holiday and coming down from a euphoric victory over the bluenoses.
However Celtic started the game sprightly and got at Dunfermline from the first minute. Charlie Mulgrew fired in 2 early corners which had the Dunfermline defence scrambling. On the 19th Minute Mulgrew delivered a ball which was partly cleared by the Dunfermline defence only for the ball to fall for Tony Stokes who took the place of the injured Beram Kayal, stokes took the ball down touched the ball onto his right foot and curled a peach into the top left-hand corner.
Celtic looked to push on and had Dunfermline at 6’s and 7’s and in Victor Wanyama we had a midfield general that we have lacked in the last few years. He was winning balls, finding team mates with some crisp passing and generally just never let any of the opposition get involved. As if that wasn’t enough Wanyama popped up in the 40th minute to volley a Charlie Mulgrew cross home from close range.
Dunfermline almost equalised after some slack defending but thankfully we had big Lurch on hand to make the save and Celtic went in 2 – 0 up and playing within themselves. In the 2nd half Dunfermline started sprightly but the hoops moved things up a gear and Gary Hooper came close to increasing the lead when he glanced a Joe Ledley cross wide.
Celtic continued to play some good football but it wasn’t until the 69th minute that we managed to press home our advantage further. Man of the match Charlie Mulgrew stepped up and stuck one in the back of the new from about 30 yards when the Dunfermline goalie seemed to lose flight of the ball. We created a few more chances before the end but never tucked them away.
The most pleasing moment of the game for me was the introduction of Emilio Izaguirre from the bench; he came on with just over 10 minutes to go and was given a magnificent reception not only by the travelling support but the Celtic fans watching on TV and online.
The news coming through from The Reichstag was that Stuart McCall’s men had been overrun, offered little resistance to rangers and had been beaten 3-0, so although Celtic did not move any further forward, we navigated our way through a game that had the potential to throw up a surprise and we consolidated our lead at the top of the SPL.
Who could have thought than on November 5th Celtic would be top of the league in January? I certainly didn’t, but I am very pleased by how the players and the management team have proved me wrong. The real battle begins now though and I hope we have the fortitude to see it through until the end of the season.