SCOTT BROWN believes he is currently leading one of the best Celtic sides in the club’s modern history as they home in on a third successive championship success.
Wednesday night’s 4-0 win over Kilmarnock moved the title holders 18 points clear at the top of the Premiership table with a game in hand, emphasising the yawning gulf in quality which exists between them and their notional rivals.
But, while there will be no shortage of those who believe Celtic’s dominance of Scottish football is diminished by the standard of their opposition during a period in which both Rangers and Hearts suffered financial meltdown, Brown has no doubts about the merit of their success.
And the Celtic captain takes special pride in his side’s ongoing clean sheet record in domestic football.
Their latest shut-out against Kilmarnock was their tenth in a row in league games, matching the club’s previous all-time best, set back in 1914 and 1922.
They can set a new club record with another clean sheet against St Mirren at Celtic Park on Sunday, which would then leave them just one short of Aberdeen’s Scottish record of 12 successive league clean sheets achieved in the 1970-71 season.
These are landmarks which Brown says provide plenty of incentive for him and his team-mates, despite what is already an inevitable title triumph.
“With this run of results and the added achievement of the clean sheets, I think this is one of the best Celtic teams in a long time,” insisted Brown.
“So, hopefully, we can keep going for as long as possible. It’s a great achievement. Looking around our dressing room and seeing what it means to the players, it shows that we have so much to play for this season.
“It was a great result against Kilmarnock. The lads played well from start to finish and I think it was played at a good tempo as well.
“We were playing one and two-touch on the pitch and we looked really good.”
The Scotland midfielder also paid tribute to goalkeeper Fraser Forster who produced an outstanding stop to prevent Kilmarnock captain Manuel Pascali making the score 2-1 with a close-range shot in the second half.
“There was one chance for Kilmarnock at the back post but we can always rely on Fraser at times like that,” added Brown, “because he always produces the big saves at the big times.”
Celtic have scored 11 goals in their last three games against Kilmarnock, Hibs and Motherwell since returning from their mid-season warm weather sojourn to Turkey at the start of the month. Brown believes that trip has been a significant factor in improving the pace and fluency of Celtic’s recent performances.
“The lads got five or six days off and that refreshed our legs,” he said. “We had a chance to relax and get some time away from the training ground and just get some time for ourselves. I think it’s helped our style of play because we’re starting games brightly and those ten to 15 minutes are crucial in games.
“The home crowd are brilliant and that helps, but it’s also the lads’ determination and the heart in that dressing room. We want to keep that going and the fans want to keep that going and the recent performances show how determined we are to do that.”
While it might be understandable for some complacency to creep into Celtic’s play when they have such an impregnable lead at the top of the table, utility man Charlie Mulgrew believes manager Neil Lennon will ensure they remain fully focused on trying to preserve their unbeaten league record for the rest of the season.
“The manager is keeping on top of us and making sure we are always on our toes so that is helping,” said Mulgrew.
“We are trying to do the best we can. The manager is on our case all the time in training every day, trying to make sure we don’t get slack.
“We are not trying to think too much about records. We don’t speak too much about it. I know it is there in the background and sometimes it is hard to ignore but – and I know it is a cliche – we are trying to take one game at a time and do the best we can.
“It was a good result and good performance against Kilmarnock and the manager is keeping us on our toes.”
Here are the results from Celtic’s run of ten successive league clean sheets so far.
6 December: Motherwell 0 Celtic 5
14 December: Celtic 1 Hibernian 0
21 December: Celtic 2 Hearts 0
26 December: St Johnstone 0 Celtic 1
29 December: Inverness 0 Celtic 1
1 January: Celtic 1 Partick Thistle 0
5 January: St Mirren 0 Celtic 4
18 January: Celtic 3 Motherwell 0
26 January: Hibernian 0 Celtic 4
29 January: Celtic 4 Kilmarnock 0