Saturday 19 August 2017

Rodgers hails his Invincibles for 'once in a lifetime' feat

Celtic 2 Hearts 0

Scott Brown and Brendan Rodgers with the Scottish Premiership trophy after Celtic’s 2-0 victory over Hearts at Parkhead yesterday. Photo credit: Craig Watson/PA Wire
Scott Brown and Brendan Rodgers with the Scottish Premiership trophy after Celtic’s 2-0 victory over Hearts at Parkhead yesterday. Photo credit: Craig Watson/PA Wire

Roddy Forsyth

The sense of destiny nurtured and embodied by Brendan Rodgers was manifest as Celtic became the first Scottish league team since 1899 entitled to call themselves The Invincibles.

Victory over Hearts, which took their win total to 34, required graft and was a reminder that, for all the disparity in resources between Celtic and every other club in the league - including Rangers - if such a feat was simple to accomplish it would not have taken 118 years to do it again.

Celtic's Cristian Gamboa (left) and Heart of Midlothian's Liam Smith battle for the ball. Photo credit: Craig Watson/PA Wire
Celtic's Cristian Gamboa (left) and Heart of Midlothian's Liam Smith battle for the ball. Photo credit: Craig Watson/PA Wire

When Rodgers stepped on to the turf after full-time had sounded on a 2-0 win - with goals from Leigh Griffiths and Stuart Armstrong in the second-half - he immediately moved to contain expectations.

"It will never be done again in our lifetime," the Northern Irishman told the euphoric crowd. "The group have worked so hard for all the records they have broken and they thoroughly deserve it. It's been a great season.

"You come in and plan to win. However, to perform like we've done is truly remarkable. The club is very much together as one. It's an incredible achievement. I am a Celtic supporter so I know what it feels like. The fans' enjoyment is the most important thing."

In the week when the Hoops faithful will pay homage to the Lisbon Lions of 1967 - the 50th anniversary of whose epochal European Cup win falls on Thursday - there could have been no more fitting salute from the current generation of players than the clutch of records appropriated in the east end of Glasgow.

Heart of Midlothian's Bjorn Johnsen (left) and Celtic's Dedryck Boyata battle for the ball. Photo credit: Craig Watson/PA Wire
Heart of Midlothian's Bjorn Johnsen (left) and Celtic's Dedryck Boyata battle for the ball. Photo credit: Craig Watson/PA Wire

Rodgers' squad achieved a beautifully symmetrical 106 points and exactly as many goals over the course of 38 Scottish Premiership fixtures, during which they were held to a draw on only four occasions - by Inverness, Partick Thistle, Rangers and Ross County.

The awards for manager, player and young player of 2016-17 are a Celtic fiefdom and with two trophies already swathed in green and white ribbons, a further success against Aberdeen in the Scottish Cup final at Hampden Park next Saturday will see Rodgers become only the third Parkhead manager to accomplish a clean sweep of the domestic honours.

Hearts played their part in the occasion by making Celtic work for their reward, deploying five at the back plus a bank of four in midfield. And, as far as they were able to in a contest that saw them confined to a one-third share of possession, they created tangible menace, culminating in a late header from Bjorn Johnsen which smacked off the crossbar.

This, though, was a day of destiny, prefigured by a magnificently orchestrated pre-match flag display which saw 60,000 Hoops fans brandish their banners to spell out 'Lisbon Lions' in the North Stand, along with a silver image of the European Cup over the two levels of the Jock Stein Stand.

Celtic's Scott Brown lifts the trophy. Photo credit: Craig Watson/PA Wire
Celtic's Scott Brown lifts the trophy. Photo credit: Craig Watson/PA Wire

Griffiths made the breakthrough four minutes after the break when he met Patrick Roberts' cross from the right with a typically spring-heeled leap to head beyond Viktor Noring.

Read more: Undefeated Celtic join glory game's elite club

One more strike was needed to secure the scoring record and, although Hearts were able to defer the event until the final quarter hour, destiny was not to be denied. When Griffiths delivered a low pass into the box, Armstrong arrived to drive the ball home.

Griffiths, who had indulged in a brief spat with Rodgers when substituted against Partick Thistle, was swift to praise his manager amidst the celebratory scenes which ensued when the final whistle sounded.

"It's crazy. I didn't think anybody would've thought we'd have gone the season unbeaten. It just shows the character and mentality we've got in that dressing room and it's all down to the gaffer - he's instilled that from day one." © Daily Telegraph, London.

Celtic's Green Brigade let off flares. Photo credit: Craig Watson/PA Wire
Celtic's Green Brigade let off flares. Photo credit: Craig Watson/PA Wire

106 Record number of points won by Celtic, beating the previous mark of 103, which was set by Martin O'Neill's team in 2002.

106 Number of goals scored, which took them past the 105 scored by O'Neill's Bhoys in 2001-02. Celtic's famous Lisbon Lions team scored 111 in 1966-67 before league reconstruction.

38 Number of games unbeaten. Previous best was 32, set by O'Neill's team in 2003-04. They are the first team to go unbeaten in the Scottish top flight since 1899, when Rangers matched Celtic's achievement of the previous year, but the campaign was only 18 games long in those days.

34 Celtic's number of victories, which took them past the 33 achieved in 2001-02.

30 Biggest winning margin in Scottish football, but one short of the European record, which Paris St Germain set last season.

 

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