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Friday 23 August 2019

Celtic's thoughts turn to sealing the treble-treble

Celtic captain Scott Brown leads the celebrations after their victory against Aberdeen secured an eighth successive Scottish Premiership title. Photo: PA
Celtic captain Scott Brown leads the celebrations after their victory against Aberdeen secured an eighth successive Scottish Premiership title. Photo: PA

Roddy Forsyth

Will the circle be unbroken? That was the question asked of Neil Lennon when he returned to Celtic as interim manager upon the abrupt departure of Brendan Rodgers in February.

The season's remaining business included the acquisition of an eighth successive league title and, by way of completing a third clean sweep of the domestic honours on the spin, the retention of the Scottish Cup.

At Pittodrie on Saturday, Lennon supervised the climax of a successful Scottish Premiership campaign with a 3-0 win over Aberdeen on an afternoon that would have been awkward had James Wilson converted either of the opportunities that fell to him in an even first half. Instead, he struck the first off Scott Bain's crossbar and the second against the post.

Whatever nerves might have been exposed had Celtic fallen behind became a moot point when Mikael Lustig dived to head home a cross from Callum McGregor shortly before the break. The outcome was settled soon after the interval when McGregor's precise corner was met with an equally imposing header by Jozo Simunovic.

It was the Croatian's second goal in a week after two years without finding the net, and his contribution typified the knack of champions to get the job done by one means or another.

The same could be said of Lustig, whose goal doubled his tally for the season. The scoresheet was not wholly the property of defenders, because Odsonne Edouard made it 3-0 in the closing moments. But the contribution of the back line was also emphasised by another clean sheet for Bain - his 15th from 18 appearances in the current campaign.

The goalkeeper's interventions have helped mitigate the shortage of firepower that has sometimes hindered Celtic's momentum since Moussa Dembele left for Lyon last summer, a situation exacerbated by the personal problems that have ruled Leigh Griffiths out of action since December.

Bain is a classic example of the cyclical tendencies of football. He was signed by Celtic as cover for Craig Gordon and Dorus de Vries last year, having been discarded by Dundee after the collapse of his relationship with manager Neil McCann.

Bain made his breakthrough when injuries to the regular keepers pitchforked him into a debut against Rangers at Ibrox where he conceded a goal inside two minutes but finished on a winning Celtic side depleted by the dismissal of Simunovic.

A long-term injury to Gordon meant Bain became first-choice keeper and his clean-sheet record is the best in the Scottish Premiership. Moreover, by helping Celtic secure the title at Pittodrie, he delivered the perfect riposte to Aberdeen, who ditched him as a trainee in the summer of 2011.

"It's amazing. I've come full circle," he said. "We beat Aberdeen in the League Cup final and now we have secured the league title at Pittodrie. It is a great feeling but I played a minimal role compared to the other boys. They need to get more credit than they have been getting.

"Across Europe, you don't play with a team with more pressure on them than Celtic. Time and time again this team just comes up trumps and shows how strong mentally they are.

Games

"When the going gets tough and everything is getting thrown at them, they always come through. We have still got another couple of games to go in the league and it would be nice to get another couple of clean sheets, but the whole team needs credit for those stats because we defend from the front and we do that very well.

"We have seen all of you writing in the papers about how it's not been the same, how we've not been achieving what we've achieved before, but we still go on. We're unbeaten, we keep winning. The Celtic train just keeps marching on."

The team is unbeaten in the 11 domestic games under Lennon's charge and needs to beat Hearts in the Scottish Cup final to complete the club's third successive clean sweep.

If that is accomplished, Lennon will have done everything that could have been asked of him in his caretaker capacity. Can he realistically be denied the chance to take Celtic to 10 consecutive titles - the ultimate unbroken circle?

© Daily Telegraph, London

Telegraph.co.uk

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