IN THIS curiosity of a championship, it was appositely odd to watch the Celtic support revel in the possibility of a title-winning afternoon by passing around the stadium a banner of the, eh, sometime Rangers owner Craig Whyte.
Scorers: Celtic: Commons (16 52), Lustig (61)
On a day when their team served up a filleting of Hibernian that appeared significant enough to merit their attention and acclaim, the fact the home punters reserved time both for the banner-passing and interminable chanting about Whyte’s “Fenian army” said much about how they derive their footballing fulfilment without their bitter rival.
The preoccupation with the latest Ibrox farrago did not even abate during the nine minutes late on that St Mirren led Motherwell, and so seemed to set Celtic on course for their 44th championship, a course of events then altered by a late James McFadden equaliser.
“I was going to ask the referee what they were actually chanting. I didn’t really get it,” Commons said. “But there was a little bit of entertainment with the flag that kept circulating.” Yet for the 75 minutes the schemer lasted with a bruised ankle that allowed him to train only the day prior to the game, he served up bags of entertainment. His interplay with strikers Gary Hooper and Anthony Stokes caused a supine visiting team to be pulled apart time and again. Inside 14 minutes, Celtic’s crisp movement brought a first goal when a burst down the left by Charlie Mulgrew led to him playing the ball inside to Hooper. He, in turn, spun round to feed Commons who steered a shot into the corner of Ben Williams’ net from 14 yards.
The same player added a second seven minutes after the interval when he seized on a Joe Ledley cut-back, turned his marker all too easily and steered an effort low into the net. Celtic’s third on the hour mark brought blushes from scorer Mikael Lustig after he diverted a Ledley cross over the line with his arm when thrusting for a header.
In between times, Hooper set it up on a plate for Commons to complete his hat-trick. He fluffed the finish, though, and the fact that proved one of many clear misses across a completely one-sided encounter was Lennon’s only quibble on a day he was content delivered what he most wanted.
“It doesn’t matter when you win the league – it’s winning it,” he said. “As a manager you think if you win it quickly you can do things with the squad but we need a point to wrap it up and we’ll see what the post-split fixtures bring on Monday.
“Today I was looking for a performance I know the team are capable of because the other result was out of our hands. I’m very pleased. We just had to sit and wait. It would be nice to have a home game and marvellous to have a full house and give the fans something to enjoy.”
If Celtic could get Whyte to conduct the half-time draw in the Celtic Park first post-split fixture they are sure to be given to offer them the chance to win a title at home for the first time since 2006, then that would ensure the fans had something to enjoy. They are perhaps oblivious to just how much bang they have been given for their buck since the turn of the year in their own stadium. Lennon is not. “Our home form has been exceptional – that’s ten wins in a row and a lot of goals.”
Central to those returns has been Commons’ restoration to the player he was in his first six months at Celtic, which was followed by a campaign he admits was “nothing to rave about” and yielded only three goals.
With 16 strikes this term, the 20-goal mark is in his sights. “A big part of my game is scoring goals and creating and when you are not quite at the races you do take criticism,” the 28-year-old said. “For me to score goals, create, and play a part in winning a championship and, hopefully, a double would be a bonus.” Celtic’s sights now turn to next Sunday’s Scottish Cup semi-final against Dundee United but for Lennon there is an important date on the 18th of the month when he will be looking for his board to listen to him as regards the “bit of squad rebuilding to do in the summer”.
“Hopefully, there will be a bit of money to spend as we haven’t spent a great deal,” he said. “We’re actually in the black after our transfer dealings over the three years. We have a board meeting on the 18th so we’ll see what the outcome will be in terms of taking the club forward.”
When he looks back on this season, Lennon won’t belittle a title win that, purely in terms of the lead his team have established, is on a par with seven of the eight previous championships he has helped the club claim.