A lament of Partick Thistle manager Alan Archibald before the last time his team faced Celtic – all of 12 days before their meeting last night – was that the reserves of the Scottish champions could win the title. It seems that since then Brendan Rodgers has set about proving him half right.
With an early Scott Sinclair strike, Celtic moved 14 points ahead of nearest challengers Rangers in the Premiership, fielding a side that contained almost half a team that could not be considered first picks. Indeed, across three games in eight days, the Irishman has selected no fewer than 18 different starters.
Most notable of these in the latest jousting with Thistle was 18-year-old attacker Calvin Miller. Rodgers, pictured, deemed his senior start last night would come at left-back. In doing so, the Celtic manager recalled how he had done likewise with Ryan Bertrand while Chelsea youth manager.
It could seem curious to embark on experimentation normally reserved for meaningless end-of-season affairs when, ostensibly, Celtic are in the midst of a title race until it is considered that their posting of a 16th victory from 17 league games this season has virtually obliterated any opposition.
Yet, the fluency that regularly brought four-goal flailings in the opening months of the campaign has given way to stop-start performances and slender wins.
Full points were claimed by Celtic against a Partick side planted at the foot of the Premiership in no small part because the visitors seemed to find some outlandish ways to avoid capitalising on chances – two of which came in the opening minutes.
Ade Azeez could probably have achieved no more, when on an acute angle to the right of goal, than draw a sharp save from Craig Gordon as an unfamiliar Celtic struggled to find any rhythm seven minutes in.
No such mitigation can be offered to Ryan Edwards, though. After he had nicked the ball from Jozo Simunovic, who had clumsily allowed it to become entangled in his legs on the edge of the box, the goal opened up for the Australian but with a tame shot the only part of it he found was precisely where Gordon was positioned.
Early in the second period Liam Lindsay found Gordon with a free header demanding to be dispatched elsewhere, while composure deserted both David Amoo and Ziggy Gordon either side of the interval when they were in one-on-one situations.
The fact that Celtic yielded opportunities that might have cost them their winning league run – which now stands at 12 games – continued a pattern evident in their victories by a single-goal advantage at Celtic Park against Hamilton and Dundee across the past week.
However, Celtic would argue that only their own wastefulness in front of goal has allowed opponents to believe there are chinks in their armour as, following their League Cup triumph last month, they chase down the Scottish post-war record for a domestic unbeaten start to a season set by their European Cup-winning side in season 1966-67.
On the 21-game mark, they require to avoid defeat for five more matches to eclipse the Lisbon Lions’ 26-match sequence.
Rodgers’ side certainly passed up a hatful of chances last night.
There appeared an element of them being unable to find their edge for a mundane fixture and only game nine of December – that takes them across the city for a Hogmanay hosting by Rangers – might induce that.
The notable exception to such laxity last night came in the 16th minute when Sinclair exquisitely whipped a shot high into the net on meeting a Liam Henderson free-kick that the midfielder side-footed to him from the right channel after feigning to hoist it into the box.
For the English winger, motivation last night would have come from within, following a month on the sidelines with injury that meant he had a six-week wait before adding goal No 11 to his season’s tally.
Celtic controlled much of the second period as Patrick Roberts and Moussa Dembele each had a couple of opportunities to bag their side a clinching second.
The fact that the Frenchman did not find the net means he has now gone six games without a goal. Yet, even with the 17-goal sensation having gone off the boil, and a few others in his team’s colours struggling to generate the heat they did months ago, Celtic are still finding ways to win. Even if Thistle were the latest opponent to give a good account of themselves against Rodgers’ side, the flip side of that is that Celtic’s opponents simply cannot find any way to avoid defeat.