Commons touch keeps Celtic flying
INVERNESS CT 0 CELTIC 1
CELTIC are almost halfway through the defence of their SPL crown, but they have had one hand on a fourth successive title for some time and yesterday's events in the Highland capital merely confirmed their unchallengeable dominance.
It was, though, an odd occasion in which they prevailed by a Kris Commons goal after only two minutes and were spared from being confined to a draw when Ross Draper bounced a free header off target in injury-time.
Caley Thistle last beat Celtic at home in May 2011 when Shane Sutherland's winner in a postponed fixture torpedoed the Hoops' chance of their first title under Neil Lennon.
Of course, in those days Rangers were around to guarantee a title race. The absence of the Ibrox side has rendered the top division an uncompetitive progress for Lennon's players.
Lennon gets irritated by such observations and points out that his players are damned with faint praise when they deliver and are condemned swiftly when they don't.
This result guaranteed that Celtic would carry their unbeaten SPL record into 2014. In addition, Commons' strike ensured that they would depart 2013 having scored in all 36 league games they played -- the last time they did that in a calendar year was in 2002.
Celtic have also now played 21 consecutive league games, stretching back to last season, without defeat and they have preserved clean sheets in their last six domestic fixtures.
John Hughes was, however, able to remind his Caley Thistle squad that they had had the measure of the champions when the sides met in the east end of Glasgow in August, having led 2-0 before being held to a 2-2 draw. Caley Thistle's hopes of repeating that feat suffered a setback almost immediately when they failed to defend a throw-in level with their penalty area. Commons played a one-two with Georgios Samaras before shooting low through Dean Brill's legs for his 15th goal of the season.
Yet, in a repeat of events on St Stephen's Day, when Celtic went ahead against St Johnstone after three minutes, the league leaders came off the boil and Draper almost made them pay right at the death.
Afterwards, Lennon laughed off a story in a Sunday newspaper claiming that Swedish superstar Zlatan Ibrahimovic had hinted he would like to finish his career at Parkhead. "I need to look up Z in my mobile phone," said the celtic manager with a smile. "He might not get in the team at the minute because we are going well. It is a strange one but it shows the reputation we have."
The former Celtic skipper was more circumspect when talking about his name being linked with the vacant post at West Brom. Asked if there had been any contact from the Baggies, Lennon replied: "Not at all. I have had no inclination from any club.
"I still have a lot of things to do here and until I get a phone call or Peter (Lawwell, chief executive) tells me there has been interest, I just don't give it any thought whatsoever."
(© Daily Telegraph, London)