CELTIC captain Scott Brown believes his team’s defeat at Easter Road on Saturday should act as a warning that the outcome of the SPL title race is not yet a formality for the defending champions.
Despite the 1-0 defeat at the hands of Brown’s former club Hibs at the weekend, Celtic retain a more than handy six-point lead at the top of the table with a game in hand on their closest pursuers. They face one of them, Motherwell, at Celtic Park tomorrow in their last match before top-flight clubs enjoy a two-week winter break. It is a period of respite Brown says the Celtic players definitely need after their exertions in the first half of the season which have seen them reach the last 16 of the Champions League and remain in contention for all three domestic honours.
The midfielder is anxious to ensure Celtic immediately return to the business of collecting three points against Motherwell and reinforce their advantage in a championship chase he insists still has some distance left to run.
“For us, losing to Hibs shows the league is definitely not over,” said Brown. “It’s going to be hard for us, especially going away to places like Hibs, Dundee United and Aberdeen in the rest of the season. We’ve got to really pick up our form.
“The SPL is brilliant. The fact that teams are still close to us at the top of the table shows you that it is getting better. People are doubting Scottish football, but we are doing really well. We just need to get more teams involved in the mix. I know it’s hard financially for clubs, but they seem to be bringing younger people through and that shows that it’s working.
“Motherwell are doing really well just now. They had a dip about a month ago, but they seem to be on good form now. It’s going to be a hard game for us but we are looking forward to it.
“We were definitely disappointed to end 2012 with a defeat at Easter Road, but we have another game quickly and hopefully we can get back to winning ways at Celtic Park.
“I would say we need the winter break. We’ve got five or six first-team players out injured, so it’s been hard with the amount of games the team have played. We’ve not got the biggest squad in the world, so I think a two-week break will do us wonderfully well.
“It’s not the hardest season I’ve known, because I’ve missed quite a few of the games with injury, but it’s probably harder for a lot of the other lads than it has been for me.”
Brown was philosophical in his assessment of Celtic’s performance against Hibs, believing the uncharacteristic lack of a cutting edge was the only downside for Neil Lennon’s team.
“I would say Hibs had a good day, we had a good day as well and Hibs defended really well,” added Brown. “They did what they set out to, defended and counter-attacked really well, and scored a goal. But I think we had 75, 80 per cent of possession the whole game, and created a lot of chances. We just didn’t have the quality in the final third to finish them off. A six-point lead at the top of the table is still not the worst for us, but we don’t enjoying losing to anyone. We have a winning mentality at Celtic and we want to continue that.
“We want to go on a good run in 2013 and have good form consistently. We’ve got the last 16 of the Champions League to look forward to as well. There are a lot of games between now and then, so we’re looking forward to every single one.
“That’s why you come to a club like Celtic. We want to be in all four tournaments and we want to go as far as we can in every one of them. I would say I’m expecting a special season. Our squad have got bouncebackability and can come back from anything. We’ve got great composure as well on the ball, so we’ve got a lot to look forward to.
“The players who have come in to the club this season have done really well so far. The more games we play, the more fans see they’re better players, and everyone in that dressing room believes in themselves. They know we’re a good squad, and we’ve really got to kick on now. It’s probably the best squad I’ve been part of here.”