The SPL championship race was blown wide open once again on Sunday, as leaders Celtic fell to a shock 2-0 defeat at the hands of Motherwell. This has been viewed as a shock by many after Celtic’s comfortable win over their great rivals in the previous round of fixtures. This isn’t a unique occurrence though, all the way through this season, a pattern has formed, involving the winner of an Old Firm league match, and their following league fixture. Let’s go back to October 24th 2010; Celtic and Rangers had both begun the season with 100% records and were meeting each other for the first time. It was Neil Lennon’s first big domestic test of the season and people were going to use this to gauge opinions on how Celtic could fare during the season based on this performance. As it turned out, Celtic were defeated 3-1 at home, with two goals from Kenny Miller and a Glenn Loovens own goal, even though they took the lead through Gary Hooper. It’s the following league game I’d like to bring more attention to though. Just six days later, Rangers were at home to Inverness Caley Thistle. Confidence was running high, and even though Caley were in the middle of an astounding unbeaten away run, the home side were strong, strong favourites. Rangers seemed to live up to the title of favourites, with Maurice Edu scoring an early goal. Rangers couldn’t make this lead count though, and ended up drawing 1-1 following a late equaliser from Eric Odhiambo. This essentially rendered the previous week’s comprehensive victory pointless, and gave Celtic an incentive to get back into the title race.
The next meeting between the Glasgow rivals occurred on the 2nd of January. This time around, Rangers were made strong favourites, with even the most faithful Celtic fan would’ve been overjoyed to collect a point from Ibrox. It turned out to be a very successful day for the Bhoys though, as a second half double from much maligned Greek forward Georgios Samaras netted Celtic three points. Once again, the Old Firm victory gave the club a big boost, and increased morale of the players and fans. The next league game for Celtic was a midweek away clash at New Douglas Park against Hamilton. Hamilton were lingering at the bottom of the table and hadn’t secured a home league victory all season, so many, possibly including the Celtic players, just thought the in form Celtic side just had to turn up and the victory would come. The Lanarkshire side clearly hadn’t read the script though, and took the lead through a controversial Simon Mensing goal. Tempers flared in this game, with a total of three players being sent off, as Celtic searched for an equaliser. They eventually achieved this through a stoppage time Anthony Stokes penalty, but once again the victorious old firm side had found it hard to continue the winning form.
The third league meeting of the season took place at Parkhead on Sunday, 20th February. As Celtic had been the form team throughout the previous weeks, the pressure was on them to collect the victory that was expected of them. For the first time this season, the favourites managed to come away with the victory as a double from Gary Hooper and a third from Kris Commons gave the Parkhead side a comfortable 3-0 victory. The media coverage of the game in the week that followed glorified Celtic’s performance. Yes, the performance was excellent, but the way it was being reported, it was as if Celtic had won the league, and this might have been in their minds as they went to Fir Park on February 27th. Once again, it was as if the Celtic players just expected a victory. There was no fight, no desire, no hunger in the performance. Motherwell capitalised on a couple of mistakes from the usually water tight Celtic defence to secure a 2-0 victory thanks to a double from John Sutton. Once again the momentum and advantage, gained from a victory in an old firm match, was lost just a few days later.
So there you have it, there have been three Old Firm games in the league this season, and in the winning club’s following fixture, they have went on to drop points. Is it just coincidence, or is it complacency from the players/management? From a neutral point of view, it’s probably the best thing that could happen as it will add a more exciting edge to the rest of the season, as now it doesn’t look like Celtic will canter to a title win, as was so widely predicted after last week’s win. Obviously the Old Firm game is the biggest match our country sees, and is often perceived to determine the whereabouts of the SPL title, but as the aftermath of these games shows, it could possibly be rendered pointless due to the club’s form in other games. In saying that though, try telling one of the thousands of Celtic or Rangers supporters celebrating a victory against their rivals that this victory will mean nothing in just a few short days, I’m sure it isn’t pointless to them.