CELTIC are looking to rubber-stamp their title success this afternoon. The championship formalities will be completed if Neil Lennon’s side avoid defeat at home to Inverness Caledonian Thistle.
But putting a seal of approval on the season requires more than that, according to Kris Commons. As far as the forthright attacker is concerned, defeating Hibernian in the Scottish Cup final is the minimum requirement to prevent a season devoid of a Rangers challenge from ultimately proving a let-down – even allowing for the club’s continental exploits.
“If we didn’t do the double this year it would be a disappointing season,” Commons says. “I don’t know whether it would be as disappointing to the other professionals in the dressing room, but certainly in my eyes it would be. People might say about the Champions League, beating Barcelona, qualifying for the last 16 and playing so well in the home leg against Juventus, but all those sorts of things can kind of get forgotten. It is all right beating Barcelona in the Champions League, but if you can’t beat Hearts, Hibs, week in, week out, then people might forget about that.
“Domestically we were looking to win the treble. Obviously that is not an option any more but we need to do the double. If we did that, then, having qualified for the last 16 of the Champions League, people would look upon that as a very acceptable season. It has been kind of weird, because, for a lot of us, we had the European experience of big occasions in the best competition in the world for the first time. That has kind of been separate to everthing else we have done. If you are doing it year in, year out, like your Man United, your Chelsea, it is one big season. For us it has been two different seasons – a European season and a domestic season. It has been magic to play European football, but our bread and butter is a Scottish football and if we come out of it having only won one trophy it would be a bit disappointing.”
Celtic’s patchy domestic form means that unless they win every one of their remaining league encounters, their points total will be their lowest for a title win since the Wim Jansen-inspired success of 1998. Yet their record in Europe largely inoculates them from any criticisms over their abilities. Seven wins and a draw from 12 games is a success rate rarely bettered by Scottish club. Celtic’s victory in Moscow was only the second by a Scottish club away from home in the Champions League group stages in 11 years. Morever, the absence of Rangers must be factored into the fact that Celtic, at times, have proved so slipshod in the championship, where 30 points have been dropped.
“On the road in Europe we were brilliant,” Commons says. “We were more than good enough to get a point at Barcelona away, it took 93 minutes for them to break us down. If you had said that at the start of the season people would have laughed. European-wise we have probably got a lot of credit, which is something we would want to add to next year as well, but domestic-wise we have probably lost too many games for our liking – certainly the manager’s liking. We were looking good for the treble this year so the one cup [the League Cup] we haven’t won we are disappointed with.
“Throughout this campaign, in the league it has been different. Our main rival wasn’t there so even though we wanted to win, we planned to win, nine times out of ten we didn’t actually need to win. In the Champions League you need to win, otherwise you could get beaten 3-0, or done in the last minute. Subconsciously you don’t need to be at the top of your game in these [SPL] matches, and I think that might have crept into a few players. You come from a massive high to a bit of a low. One week we played Barcelona away at the Nou Camp and then you have Kilmarnock at home and it is just a little bit flat. You are disappointed that you conceded in the last minute [in the Nou Camp] and the atmosphere is not quite the same. You put so much effort into one match that you think you can take your foot of the gas in the next one but as soon as you do that you lose. Last year we knew we had to win every single game or at least take a point from it, whereas this year, subconsciously, you know you can get away with not being at your best and perhaps winning or scraping a draw. We let things slip. It’s just little things on your mind, it’s a learning curve for this young squad.”
Celtic’s inability to raise themselves consistently for domestic challenges condemned them to the season low point of a 3-2 semi-final defeat in the League Cup semi-final at the hands of eventual winners St Mirren. “We have seen videos and we were very flat that day,” the 28-year-old says. “They played very well and we weren’t at the races and I have always said if we don’t play to our potential then any team can beat us. That was one of those days.”
It was an atypical day for Commons, who is only two goals shy of 20 from a season in which he has been the fulcrum of Celtic’s most vibrant attacking play. Yet for the win over Barcelona he made an altogether different contribution. “I was like Gary Neville, wasn’t I? I didn’t know I could play right-back so well. They go all-out attack when they get the ball so it was hard for me to get in my usual positions of trying to create and score goals. It was a hard defensive shift.”
The pursuit of the league title has been a shift often lacking glamour, but the trophy will gleam as brightly when it is eventually shown off.