Forty-five down, two to go. The tantalising prize of season-long domestic invincibility looms large for Celtic
Brendan Rodgers’ side imperiously swept Partick Thistle aside to close in on an unprecedented feat which has appeared their destiny for some time. They have now completed 37 league games and eight cup ties without defeat against Scottish opponents under the Northern Irishman.
In this latest instalment of their remarkable campaign they smashed through the 100-goal barrier in the Premiership – Leigh Griffiths grabbing the landmark strike with their penalty opener – and equalled the club’s own record of 103 league points set by Martin O’Neill’s team in 2002. Few would bet against that being eclipsed on Sunday when they wrap up their Premiership fixtures at home to Hearts, before they turn their attention to the Scottish Cup final against Aberdeen and a chance of a domestic treble.
If Thistle had taken any encouragement last night when they saw a Celtic line-up showing five changes from the champions’ blistering 3-1 win at Aberdeen last time out, it was soon dampened by a relentlessly authoritative start by the visitors. The omission of players such as Scott Sinclair, Kieran Tierney, Stuart Armstrong and Mikael Lustig was of little consequence to Rodgers’ side. It soon became apparent that it was a matter of if, not when, they would net that 100th goal.
Before Griffiths claimed the honour from the spot in the 18th minute, Celtic had already come close on a handful of occasions as they penned Thistle into their own half. James Forrest, deputising for Sinclair on the left of Celtic’s attack, looked eager to impress and cut inside to force a smart save from Tomas Cerny in the third minute.
Two minutes later, Forrest delivered a good cross to pick out Cristian Gamboa but the Costa Rican mis-timed his jump and headed over from close range. The one-way traffic continued, Patrick Roberts showing delightful footwork before drilling in a 20-yard shot which brought a superb save from Cerny.
Thistle were simply unable to stem the tide and were let off twice in quick succession as first Callum McGregor slid a shot wastefully wide from around ten yards after brilliant set-up play by Roberts, then Emilio Izaguirre struck Cerny’s right-hand post from close range.
The dam finally burst when Callum Booth slid in injudiciously on his tormentor Roberts to concede a penalty which even the Thistle left-back did not bother to debate. Cerny guessed correctly but was unable to keep out Griffiths’ well-struck kick which beat the keeper to his left. Griffiths is battling to earn a place in Celtic’s Scottish Cup final team amid the possible return to fitness of top scorer Moussa Dembele before then. The Scotland international was doing his cause no harm and it was his fine play which set up Celtic’s second goal in the 26th minute.
He drove his way into the Thistle penalty area before picking out Tom Rogic with a low pass. The Australian midfielder managed to squeeze the ball home via the inside of a post, despite the best efforts of Cerny who required treatment after colliding with the scorer.
He recovered to make a fine save to deny McGregor again three minutes later, allowing Thistle to cling on to some hope of a recovery which Liam Lindsay should have fuelled by doing better than heading his team’s first attempt of the evening straight at Craig Gordon from close range.
Celtic’s response was to put the issue beyond all reasonable doubt with a stunning third goal four minutes before the interval. It was a sumptuous and unstoppable strike by Roberts who shifted the ball on to his left foot and thundered it into Cerny’s top right-hand corner from around 22 yards.
Thistle made two changes at the start of the second half, Cerny succumbing to his injury as he was replaced by Mark Ridgers while Ryan Edwards took over from Abdul Osman.
Celtic were able to slip into cruise control and while the intensity of their play decreased, their control of proceedings remained unchallenged. There was a rare outing for Kolo Toure as the veteran defender came on for Dedryck Boyata for the last half hour, while Sinclair also stepped off the bench to replace Griffiths up front. A petulant reaction by Griffiths as he left the field wouldn’t have impressed Rodgers, although a conciliatory hug between the pair at full-time suggested he was forgiven.
Celtic had clicked back into top gear in the closing stages, McGregor making it 4-0 with a shot which bounced down off the bar just over the line, then Roberts fittingly having the last word with another long-range stunner.