Celtic know that they are in a battle with Rangers for the Premiership crown this season. After the crushing blow of a 2-0 loss at Hearts, a missed opportunity to move back to the summit in early March, Celtic are desperately seeking a run of consistent winning form to finish the regular season with a bang.

As things stand, Celtic are second-favourites to Rangers in the title race, and the biggest odds to win today are around 11/8 on their championship. But there’s one player in particular, who could help the Hoops defy the chances and power successfully through the playoffs.

That’s Matt O’Riley who has been a dynamo from midfield this season. He already produced his best returns for the club since his move to Parkhead in 2021. Can he continue to be the driving force behind the Cetlic’s title challenge?

Weight on Young Shoulders

23-year-old O’Riley has a lot of weight on his shoulders. Now something is expected of the young lad every time he touches the ball, or makes a marauding run towards the penalty box. But there haven’t been any signs of his output slowing.

He was off the mark in the season opener with a goal and an assist against Ross County. In early March when an early red card for Hyun-Jun Yang in just the 16th minute, played a part in Celtic’s 2-0 downfall at Tynecastle, O’Riley was already sitting on 11 goals for the league campaign.

That made him the club’s top scorer in the Premiership and it also put him just two behind centre forward Kyogo Furuhashi’s tally in all competitions this season.

The Run in

With four matches to go before the split, Celtic will be hoping to be sat in the driving seat going into the final push. The big clash in that run-in to the split is their trip to Ibrox on April 7th, which will have the feel of being an early title decider on the day.

Celtic have already claimed a 1-0 win there this season, and a repeat of that scoreline would be more than good enough for the Hoops. It’s not just the psychological edge that would give Celtic over their rivals in going into the playoffs as the leaders, but also momentum for that final quarter of the season.

Celtic’s Final Four

●     St Johnstone (h)

●     Livingston (a)

●     Ranger (a)

●     St Mirren (h)

That’s a mixed bag of fixtures for the Hoops to handle. Two against current bottom-four teams (St Johnstone, Livingston) and two against current top-four teams (Rangers, St Mirren).

The Split and Beyond

Can Matt O’Riley carry them through that? It’s unfair to hinge a club’s title ambitions on just one player, but if there’s one person at the club right now, they are hinging on, it’s Riley. Their title hopes hang on him not letting his performance levels slip from where they are at.

Every Celtic fan at this point is fearing an injury to the midfielder as any loss of playing time would leave a hole too great to fill in trying to reach the title. It’s been 11 goals in 28 league appearances from him.

That’s a goal every two and a half games, so the stats project at least another four to five from him before the end of the full season. But the assists too have been so valuable, with nine in 28 matches and he’s quickly become the complete package.

Another Youngster in the Wings

Interestingly there is another young lad who could yet have a huge splash in Celtic’s title bid. That’s the on-loan Adam Idah who is at Parkhead until the end of the season. Five goals in six Premiership appearances has been a phenomenal output from him since his move in early February.

He missed some big chances in that loss to Hearts, but it’s hard to knock his impact overall. Idah’s arrival is just what Celtic needed at this stage of the season, something a little different up top that opposing defences haven’t come up against. It’s a great new element that could have profound benefits down the line.

What Next?

Celtic got themselves a bargain in Matt O’Riley for €1.80m from the MK Dons. That would equate to €0.90m per league title, an absolute snap in today’s market. But before Big Ange made the swoop for the midfielder, there were already sharks circling.

English Premier League and Championship clubs were tracking O’Riley and you can sense a big bid coming from south of the border. That’s what success brings.

In January Celtic reportedly kicked an €18 million offer from Atletico Madrid off the table. But if Celtic can hang on to him beyond this season, then they have the heart of their midfield set for seasons and potentially league titles, to come.



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