CELTIC Park was alive, vibrant with colour, and full in most corners. Last week. Yesterday it was back to the all-too-sedate stadium sampled on the occasions that Neil Lennon’s men breeze their way to victories, on their way to a third straight title that could be wrapped up in a matter of days.
The Green Brigade in the restricted-view corner sought to make a bit of a din.
And some of the football produced by the home side – with delightfully sweet moves fashioning a couple of goals and dynamic forward play evident throughout a one-sided second period – elicited warranted acclaim.
But, overall, there was no sense that here was a club on the verge of something special, that could be on its way to racking up a record points total, courtesy of a fabulous home record of 13 wins and two draws, and an overall record of 26 victories from 30 matches.
To judge from the easy-oasy nature of the punters that dutifully continue to come along to Celtic Park, there is a joyless element to winning all over again a league that only they can.
Celtic don’t need a strong Rangers, or any other Rangers, to prosper – so long as qualification to the Champions League is yearly snared. Indeed, the Ibrox club’s cherished nine-in-a-row was earned, in part, because Celtic were weak.
But without a rival of substance, the tension, the dramatic moments and successes to savour will be mighty thin on the ground for the foreseeable future.
The Celtic manager will feel a little disheartened by that because in recent months he has revitalised his side in admirable fashion with the introduction of Stefan Johansen and Leigh Griffiths, whose imagination and thrust seem to have sparked something in Anthony Stokes and Kris Commons.
All but Commons were involved in the 44th minute deadlock-breaker, which followed an opening period in which St Mirren were often in the ascendancy with some bright, bubbly football.
The visitors could not produce anything as crisp and clinical as the shuttling started when Charlie
Mulgrew dispossessed Paul McGowan in the centre of the park and fed Liam Henderson – the 17-year-old making his home debut – who helped it on to Griffiths. He then floated over a cross from the right that the Norwegian attacked with aplomb to open his goal account.
When in the 61st minute the same player prodded the ball forward for Commons to slip in Stokes and he in turn sent Griffiths through to tuck the ball beyond Marian Kello, Celtic stepped up their pounding of the Paisley team. “It could have been anything today,” said Lennon, praising Henderson for a “meteoric” week and Stokes for a “most consistent” season, even if it hasn’t produced a typical goal tally.
On the back of three disallowed efforts for the home side, two cleared off the line and one shot off the post – this goalmouth activity in a game wherein St Mirren manager Danny Lennon was at pains to point out his team had “12 attempts” – an edge-of-the-box snapshot in the 91st minute delivered Stokes the goal his manager said his play had warranted. “The dressing room is very good. We are looking forward to every game now,” Neil Lennon said. “That is our sole focus – as is progressing our team and you can see green shoots of improvement as we go along. We probably don’t want the season to end – even though it is probably going to be a very long season.”
His St Mirren counterpart might not want the season to end because it could also mean the conclusion of his four years with the club, the threat of a relegation play-off hanging over a team that are two points off third-bottom Ross County. “My own contract situation is the furthest thing from my mind,” he said, with no suggestion of an extension having been offered to him. “I am totally focused in taking this club and make sure it continues to make sure it is a Premiership club and that is where my full attention is. You have to put personal issues aside.”
These issues include talk of takeover, with Lennon’s former Cowdenbeath chairman Jim Methven believed to be heading up a group interested in a buy-out. “The football club has been up for sale since I came in. There has been a lot of parties brought to the table. Someone I know very well has introduced a group to the table, I am not party to boardroom talks. That is above my pay level. I am here to take care of football matters and not business matters. That’s the way it will remain.”