As Celtic get set to compete for a domestic clean sweep I wanted to take a look at the games that shaped our season in the lead up to what could be the climax of an incredible achievement.
Celtic are unbeaten in 44 games domestically with 40 wins and 4 draws spanning the 3 domestic competitions Celtic compete in. Incredibly, Celtic have only behind their opponent for 111 minutes of the 3240 regulation minutes of premiership football played this season. Furthermore, Celtic have only conceded one goal in any of the 8 cup games played this season when St Mirren took the lead at Celtic Park and held it for 45 minutes before a resurgent Celtic blew the Buddies away in the second half of that fixture.
Below I have listed 12 games that I think suitably show how dominant Celtic are, how commanding they have been and when the going got tough, albeit on only 5 different occasions, we were able to turn a losing position into a draw or a win.
1. Celtic 2 (Forrest, Sinclair) – Hearts 1 (Walker, pen) – 7th August 2016 (Premiership)
The first day of the premiership season saw Celtic travel to Edinburgh to face Hearts. Celtic took the lead with a James Forrest goal before Jamie Walker ‘won’ his team a penalty to even the score. In previous seasons, with Celtic sometimes fragile under Ronny Deila, this game could have resulted in dropped points but Brendan Rodgers was able to call on his new expensive signing, Scott Sinclair, and introduce him as a second half substitute to come on and score the winner to set the tone for the season.
2. Celtic 5 (Dembele (3), Sinclair, Armstrong) – Rangers 1 (Garner) – 10th September 2016 (Premiership)
Before this match happened, a few in the media had thought Rangers could have gone into the game with a lead in the premiership before these teams faced off. That wasn’t to be the case as Celtic won their first three games in the league and Rangers drew their first two and won two and therefore it was Celtic who already had the advantage. This victory at Celtic Park underlined the sheer gulf between the sides in what proved to be Joey ‘Scott Brown isn’t in my league’ Barton final game for the club. Celtic moved 4 points clear of the ‘chasing’ pack after this commanding victory with a perfect hat-trick from Moussa Dembele, another goal from Scott Sinclair and a fifth provided by Stuart Armstrong to demonstrate his value off the bench. A consolation goal was provided by Joe Garner.
3. Celtic 6 (Dembele (2), Forrest, Sinclair, Griffiths, Rogic) – Kilmarnock 1 (Coulibaly) – 24th September 2016 (Premiership)
This was the first time Celtic had been behind domestically all season and, to be fair, the goal was a first class strike. Souleymane Coulibaly scored a half volley from fully 40-yards to beat Dorus De Vries. This goal seemed to shake Celtic into life with Moussa Dembele equalising just three minutes later before scoring again soon after. Celtic went into cruise control and scored another 4 goals provided by James Forrest, Scott Sinclair, Leigh Griffiths and Tom Rogic to record their biggest home victory of the season.
4. Celtic 1 (Dembele) – Rangers 0 – 23rd October 2016 (League Cup Semi Final)
A game in which Celtic were just as dominant as the previous meeting between the two teams without the clinical finishing. An 87th minute Moussa Dembele backheel double nutmeg was the difference between the sides but the match followed a similar pattern to that of the 5-1 game and could have been similar if it hadn’t been for the heroics of the Rangers goalkeeper Matt Gilks. His resolve was finally broken three minutes from time when Dembele continued where he had left off in September at Celtic Park. Celtic had reached the final of the League cup where they would return to Hampden the following month to face Aberdeen. The aftermath of this game was dominated by talk of ‘the gap’. This was because the result wasn’t as comprehensive as the previous encounter but in any of the measures apart from the scoreline, Celtic were just as superior.
5. Celtic 3 (Rogic, Forrest, Dembele (pen)) – Aberdeen 0 – 27th November 2016 (League Cup Final)
Celtic returned to Hampden in November to face Aberdeen in the final of the League Cup which was taking place before the turn of the year for the first time since 1997 due to a revamp of the competition. Celtic were supremely dominant in this game in which Aberdeen had set up to try contain the Hoops. As soon as Tom Rogic scored in the 16th minute, Aberdeen had no answer. James Forrest scored the second and Moussa Dembele wrapping up the victory from the penalty spot. Celtic negotiated the league cup competition without conceding a goal while racking up eleven goals in the process. It secured part one of a potential treble and was the 100th major trophy won by Celtic in their history.
6. Celtic 4 (McGregor, Roberts, Armstrong, Rogic) – Motherwell 3 (Moult (2), Ainsworth) – 03rd December 2016 (Premiership)
Celtic’s biggest challenge to date came when Louis Moult put Motherwell into a two goal lead which meant Celtic were behind for 67 minutes before Callum McGregor and Patrick Roberts levelled the game. Motherwell took the lead once more with a Lionel Ainsworth goal which was quickly extinguished by Stuart Armstrong only one minute later. Tom Rogic completed a sensational comeback with a 90th minute winner to show the resilience of this Celtic side and show how much mental strength Brendan Rodgers had instilled into his squad.
7. Celtic 2 (Dembele, Sinclair) – Rangers 1 (Miller) – 31st December 2016 (Premiership)
Celtic came into this match having gone for 55 points and achieved it and were looking to cement their lead at the top of the premiership. Rangers hadn’t lost at home for some time so the stage was set for another clash between the city rivals. Rangers took the lead through veteran Kenny Miller which they held for 22 minutes before Moussa Dembele unleashed a rocket of a left foot volley into the roof of Wes Foderingham’s net from a Celtic corner. Celtic then went on to win the game thanks to a goal from Scott Sinclair which resulted in wild scenes in the away at Ibrox. Celtic went into the winter break 19 points ahead of the Ibrox club and had all but secured the premiership trophy with this crucial victory.
8. Celtic 5 (Henderson, Dembele (3), Sinclair) – St. Johnstone 2 (Watson, Boyata (og) – 5th February 2017 (Premiership)
The last time that Celtic have been behind in a premiership game was in February at McDiarmid Park with St. Johnstone coming from behind themselves to lead 2 goals to 1 after Liam Henderson had fired Celtic into the lead. The St. Johnstone goals came from Keith Watson and a Dedryck Boyata own goal. Celtic were able to restore parity after 22 minutes with a controversial penalty awarded after a perceived handball by a St. Johnstone player. It was never a penalty but Moussa Dembele made no mistake by equalising from the spot. Dembele scored again soon after as did Scott Sinclair but what transpired after that was nothing short of magical. Moussa Dembele completed his hat-trick but only after Celtic completed 24 passes which encompassed all of the Celtic players on the field culminating in a rabona from Mikael Lustig, a backheel from Callum McGregor and the finish applied by the Frenchmen.
9. Celtic 4 (Lustig, Sinclair, Dembele, Griffiths) – St. Mirren 1 (Davis) – 5th March 2017 (Scottish Cup Quarter Final)
Celtic had eased into the quarter final of the Scottish Cup with a 6-0 victory over Inverness Caledonian Thistle which came after a routine victory over Albion Rovers in the previous round but they came up against a rejuvenated St. Mirren side at Celtic Park. St. Mirren took a shock lead and held it for 45 minutes before quick-fire goals from Mikael Lustig and Scott Sinclair flipped the game on its head. The victory was confirmed with goals from Moussa Dembele and Leigh Griffiths. After the game, Brendan Rodgers told the media in Scotland that St. Mirren were the best team they had faced domestically all season. This was roundly scoffed at as it was a perceived sleight on the rest of the teams in the country, especially towards Rangers but the way in which St. Mirren showed their own resolve to escape relegation from the Scottish Championship demonstrated that Brendan was merely giving credit where it was due. This victory set up another encounter with Rangers back at Hampden for the Scottish Cup semi-final in April.
10. Celtic (Sinclair (3), Roberts, Armstrong) – Hearts 0 – 02nd April 2017 (Premiership)
Back at Tynecastle where the premiership season had started for Celtic just 8 months before gave Celtic the opportunity to clinch the league title with a victory over Hearts. Celtic ruthlessly went about their business and it was the man who had won the game in August who came back to show his worth with a hat-trick from Scott Sinclair. Stuart Armstrong was also on the score sheet as was Patrick Roberts but it was the contribution of Sinclair, who had set the tone for the season in the earlier game, confirming Celtic as champions with three goals in Edinburgh. Celtic had won the league with eight games to spare and the earliest it had ever been done in the three points for the win era. Part two of the treble was complete and trophy number 101 secured.
11. Celtic 2 (McGregor, Sinclair (pen) – Rangers 0 – April 23rd 2017 (Scottish Cup Semi Final)
Rangers had secured a 1-1 draw with Celtic at Celtic Park in March which meant that the gulf between the two sides had closed apparently. What is missed from that game is that Celtic were as poor as they have been all season and Rangers set themselves up to contain the Hoops. Perhaps that 1-1 draw gave the Rangers fans a false sense of security and renewed hope they could defeat Celtic at Hampden. The cup semi-final was as comfortable a semi-final as I have ever seen Celtic take part in regardless of opponent. Callum McGregor merely confirmed Celtic’s dominance with the opening goal all the while Celtic not having to make one foul in the whole of the first half. At the start of the second half Rangers upped the ante a little but as soon as Leigh Griffiths was felled by James Tavernier and Scott Sinclair scored the resultant penalty there was only going to be one winner. Celtic had secured their third Hampden victory in a row without conceding a goal to set up a final with Aberdeen in May.
12. Celtic 5 (Sinclair, Griffiths, McGregor, Boyata, Lustig) – Rangers 1 (Miller) – April 29th 2017 (Premiership)
Just 6 days after Celtic had completely dominated their city rivals, it was time for them to face again, this time at Ibrox. A lot of pundits were expecting an improvement from Rangers. Surely they couldn’t surrender as meekly as they did at Hampden on their own turf? That wasn’t to be the case and Celtic showed why they are the champions. After just six minutes, Celtic had a penalty which Scott Sinclair converted. Leigh Grifftiths added a second shortly after in a first half that was incredibly one sided. Celtic could have easily scored two or three more in that half and it wouldn’t have flattered them. Shortly after half time, the Hampden hero of a week before, Callum McGregor added Celtic’s third. Dedryck Boyata scored the fourth from a Leigh Griffiths free kick which was the signal for most of the home fans to leave the stadium. Kenny Miller added a consolation goal before Mikael Lustig rubbed salt into the wounds by scoring the fifth goal to consign Rangers to their highest ever home defeat by Celtic. This game was Celtic at their merciless best and demonstrated again that the gulf between the two teams is vast.
That is my list of 12 games that have set Celtic up to hopefully win the treble against Aberdeen in the Scottish Cup Final on the 27th May.
Throughout the season domestically Celtic have scored 126 goals, scored 5 or more goals in a single game 5 times and are on the verge of invincibility with just 3 domestic games left culminating in the show piece against the Dons at Hampden. If you include European goals, Celtic have scored 141 so far and only need another 8 to break their own scoring record of 148 goals set in 2001-02 season and only need another 4 points from the last two premiership games to break their own points record of 103 set in 2003-04.
The last two premiership games are against Partick Thistle at Firhill this Thursday followed by trophy day at Celtic Park on Sunday against Hearts. I believe Celtic will complete the premiership season undefeated and also break their goal scoring record by defeating Aberdeen in the final to become the invincible treble winners. A feat never achieved before in Scotland. I have only seen one domestic treble in my lifetime, in 2001. If Celtic manage to do it this year, while maintaining an undefeated run in the league, it will eclipse the achievements of that team and propel this team into the realms of legendary status. It would be a fitting tribute to the exploits achieved by the Lisbon Lions 50 years ago this year.