RONNY Deila has insisted it is still too soon to hail his Celtic side as champions-elect this season despite their emphatic and potentially decisive 4-0 win over Aberdeen yesterday.
The title holders moved six points clear of the Dons at the top of the Premiership table as goals by Jason Denayer, Leigh Griffiths, Gary Mackay-Steven and Stefan Johansen earned victory at Celtic Park.
Deila’s team also have a game in hand, which they will play at home to St Johnstone on Wednesday night, and now appear certainties to claim the club’s fourth successive league crown. But, while the Norwegian coach was hugely gratified by the efforts of his players just 58 hours after they returned home from their Europa League tie against Inter Milan in Italy, he is wary of making any assumptions yet.
“I don’t take anything for granted,” said Deila. “I have been in football for many years now and, at my former club Stromsgodset, we were seven points clear at the top of the league three times in a row but it took us until the third year to win it.
“So I know how quick it can turn around if you start to lose focus on the right things. But if we do everything we have done so far in the rest of the season, then it is going to be very hard for Aberdeen to catch us now.
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“I didn’t say that a win today would end Aberdeen’s title hopes, just that it would put us in a very good position. Now we are six points ahead and we have the possibility to make it nine on Wednesday night. There is also the goal difference as well, which got a lot better for us today. We really have a good position in the league.
“We want to try and pull away at the top of the table now. We want to win everything we go into, we have high goals this season and important games are coming up. It’s St Johnstone first and then Dundee United in the Scottish Cup quarter-final next Sunday. If we are going to win the treble, we will have to keep on performing.”
Celtic made a sluggish start to the match, with Aberdeen the brighter side for much of the first half, which Deila attributed to their midweek exertions at the San Siro. “I’m so happy with the performance and the result,” he said. “I’m proud of the boys, because it is so hard to play so many games as we are now. We didn’t arrive back in Glasgow until 3am on Friday and that is tough when you are going to play two days later.
“You could see that in the first half when we struggled to get the tempo in our legs. Aberdeen were really good as well at that point, they were really fresh and offensive, pushed us back and caused us problems.
“They didn’t have any clear-cut chances but they had too many set plays and caused us difficulties. But we got the first goal and that gave us energy. In the second half, there was only one team on the pitch and we could have won by even more. We just calmed the players down at half-time. In the first half, we were all over the pitch. We wanted it too much. In the second half, we were disciplined and organised and balanced and moved the ball quicker and Aberdeen couldn’t cope with the runs we had in behind them.”
Deila played down a series of animated verbal exchanges between the opposing coaching staffs during the game, as they contested some of referee John Beaton’s decisions, and stressed he had no serious issues with Aberdeen manager Derek McInnes. “It is tense out there and you need to get rid of some energy,” said Deila. “It is nothing against Derek McInnes or Aberdeen. It’s just that you want to win. It was tough to be the referee today but I think he did quite well.”
The only negative aspects of the afternoon for Deila were injuries which curtailed the involvement of Kris Commons and Stuart Armstrong, but he is optimistic neither player faces a lengthy lay-off.
“Kris felt a nerve in his hamstring but it is nothing serious and hopefully he will be back this week,” said Deila. “Stuart pulled a muscle in his backside, the same kind of injury that Kris had earlier in the season. But again, hopefully it’s nothing serious.”
Celtic winger Mackay-Steven, meanwhile, believes his team are now capable of completing the rest of the campaign without suffering defeat.
“The games are coming thick and fast but the only way this club knows is to try and win,” said the recent signing from Dundee United. “I don’t see why we can’t go unbeaten until the end of the season. I’ve only been here a short time but the winning mentality rubs off on you quickly. Second best is no use at all at Celtic.”