MAY 2016, the penultimate game of the 2015/16 season. St Johnstone inflict a 2-1 defeat on a Celtic side, who’d just clinched their fifth title in a row, in a bog standard end of season game where neither side had anything to play for.
Little did anyone know back then that the Hoops would go the next 62 domestic games unbeaten, equalling their own club record in the process! On Saturday, Celtic have the opportunity to beat that 100 year record and make it 63 games without defeat.
And fate decrees that they could beat that record at McDiarmid Park, the scene of their last domestic defeat 18 months ago!
When Celtic lost that match, they already knew that manager Ronny Deila was leaving and that work was being done behind the scenes to bring in Brendan Rodgers as his successor. The former Liverpool manager has overseen 61 of those matches, meaning he himself has yet to taste defeat by a Scottish club.
It is a remarkable statistic that the club have went unbeaten for so long. It’s too dismissive to say that there is no competition for Celtic in Scotland to take the shine away from their achievement. Whilst the level of competition is not as strong as most neutrals would like to see, it still takes a lot for the club to go that length of time without losing a game. Complacency can creep in and they end up losing matches they don’t expect to, but their concentration in each game has been good as they set their sights on going through an entire season undefeated, then continued that into this campaign.
That said, they have had their share of scares along the way!
Motherwell twice led Rodgers side at Fir Park last season, including 3-2 going into the last ten minutes, before going down 4-3. Saturday’s opponents were leading 2-1 in a game in February and Celtic needed a disputed penalty to wake them up before going onto win 5-2. Aberdeen gave them a hell of a game in the Scottish Cup Final, and were a guilt edged Kenny McLean chance away from taking the lead. Who knows what might’ve happened had he made it 2-1, instead the Dons ran out of gas and Celtic went onto clinch the treble.
This season, Celtic have had two games at home where they’ve almost went through the motions and been close to slipping to that first defeat since Deila’s last away game at the club. Saints and Hibs both came within ten minutes of a famous Parkhead victory until Callum McGregor goals in each game spared their blushes. Kilmarnock also came away from Celtic Park with a well earned point last weekend.
That complacency gives St Johnstone hope that they can deliver an unlikely victory at the weekend. However, they will need to end a horrendous run of five games without a goal or victory to do so, something manager Tommy Wright will be keen to end quickly, and what better way to end both droughts than end the Champions invincible run.
St Johnstone will be hoping that Celtic take their eye off the ball. However, when they are switched on, Celtic are unstoppable, as emphasised in their win at Pittodrie last week. Knowing that Aberdeen are their closest challengers, Rodgers men stepped up a few gears and the Dons couldn’t cope, a similar performance will see them sweep Saints aside.
Celtic also have their tails up from a decent showing against Bayern Munich in the Champions League. Although they lost, they gave the German giants a hell of a game and, on another night, could’ve walked away with a point but for a lack of concentration at two key moments in the game. They’ll be eager to take that form into Saturday’s game as they seek to make it game 63 since their last domestic defeat.
The other motivation for Celtic this weekend is that any slip up could see them slip to second in the Premiership going into the international break. Despite swatting Aberdeen aside last week, to which Derek McInnes acknowledged the gulf in class between the two sides, Celtic are only a point ahead of the Dons following their Kilmarnock slip up and failure to take all three points on Saturday hands the Dons the initiative to leapfrog them into top spot.
Celtic deserve their plaudits for equalling the long-standing club record set by Willie Malley’s side during the First World War years, and people who dismiss it as “no competition” don’t appreciate that it takes a good side to go so long without defeat. Should they beat that record on Saturday, they deserve even more praise and the smart money would be placed on them doing so this weekend against a side struggling for goals.
However, don’t be surprised if St Johnstone upset the odds by replicating what they did to the Hoops in May 2016, the last time any domestic side claimed victory over Celtic.