CONTRARY to some weekend reports, Celtic still have some way to go if they are to set a new club record for consecutive domestic clean sheets.
The 4-0 win at St Mirren on Sunday was the eighth game in a row in which Fraser Forster’s goal has not been breached by Scottish opponents.
It is a run which has proved pivotal in Celtic opening up a commanding 13-point lead at the top of the Scottish Premiership and a statistic of which Neil Lennon and his players are justifiably proud.
Defender Efe Ambrose spoke yesterday of their desire to extend the unblemished sequence when they return from this week’s warm weather mid-season break in Turkey.
But it will take a mammoth effort by Ambrose and his team-mates to even match the remarkable club record of 13 successive clean sheets set by their predecessors from all of 100 years ago. On their way to winning the Scottish League and Scottish Cup double in 1913-14, legendary manager Willie Maley’s team went a then British record of 1287 minutes without conceding a goal.
The run began with a goalless draw at home to Motherwell on 20 December 1913. It was followed by another 12 straight clean sheets, including a 4-0 win over Rangers in the New Year’s Day Old Firm showdown at Celtic Park. The impregnability was built on the axis of goalkeeper Charlie Shaw, regarded as one of the club’s greatest-ever goalkeepers, and the equally celebrated full-back pairing of Joe Dodds and Alec McNair.
It came to an end with a 1-0 defeat by Falkirk at Brockville on 28 February 1914, a day on which McNair was sidelined by injury and Dodds was unavailable as he was on international duty for Scotland against Wales.
Those 13 games without conceding a goal comprised ten in the league and three in the Scottish Cup. The run of ten consecutive league clean sheets was equalled by the Celtic side of 1921-22 and both records are now in the sights of Lennon’s players. They need another four clean sheets to break the league mark and another six in total to eclipse the century-old 13-game streak.
It must be noted that Celtic’s current run of domestic clean sheets has come in tandem with the 6-1 Champions League drubbing they suffered against Barcelona at the Nou Camp last month, equalling their heaviest ever European defeat. Nonetheless, the miserly nature of their defence outwith that evening is a source of considerable encouragement for Lennon’s men.
“It’s satisfying and we’re trying our best to see how long we can keep it going,” said Nigerian international defender Ambrose, who has formed an effective partnership at the heart of Celtic’s back four with Dutchman Virgil van Dijk.
“It won’t be easy but, every day, we have to improve and do better in each game we play. We are still trying to do this not only in defence but in every area of the pitch. It’s not only down to the defence but it’s down to the team – they have kept eight clean sheets, not just the defence.”
After their originally scheduled departure was postponed on Monday because of aircraft unavailability, Celtic left yesterday for their break on the southern Mediterranean coast. They are taking part in the four-team Turkish Airlines Antalya Cup and will take on Trabzonspor tomorrow in the first semi-final. Galatasaray will face Dutch champions Ajax in the second semi on Friday, with a third-fourth place play-off on Saturday followed by the final on Sunday. Lennon is likely to include many of his fringe players in the friendly tournament, allowing his key men rest and recuperation before they resume their pursuit of another domestic double next week.
Ambrose says the Celtic players have complete trust in Lennon’s judgement on how best to prepare them for the challenges ahead.
“Sometimes he is like a father to some of us as he has helped us with so many things,” Ambrose told the Celtic View. “He is the boss and we will do what he wants.”
Ambrose insists Celtic will take the competition in Antalya seriously, with a sliver of revenge for their elimination from Europe this season in a Champions League group which included potential opponents this week, Ajax, on their minds.
“We are not going to Turkey just to relax,” added Ambrose.
“We’re going to take part in this tournament and we want to achieve something there. I think we are going there to prove a point.
“After going out of the Champions League, winning that tournament would be very good for us.”