Callum McGregor has described Celtic’s defeat by Rangers as a “wake-up call” after three-and-a-half seasons of unprecedented success for the Parkhead club as he backed his team-mates to use the hurt of the loss to propel them to a ninth consecutive Scottish title.
Steven Gerrard’s team, who have a game in hand at home against St Johnstone to play, are now just two points behind the defending champions in the Ladbrokes Premiership table following their 2-1 triumph at Parkhead at the end of last month.
However, McGregor is confident the “absolute meltdown” which has followed the Old Firm game – and many in Scottish football have predicted the treble treble winners’ spell of domestic dominance is set to come to an end – will simply bring them closer together.
The midfielder is convinced Celtic have the mental toughness required to recover from the setback and prove wrong the people who have written them off. He feels the result could actually turn out to be a huge positive.
“I think because everyone has been used to watching us win and win so well, then it’s almost like a shock to everyone when we lose a game,” he said from Celtic’s winter training camp in Dubai. “We take a step back. We had a period of the first part of the season when we were on fire and playing some good stuff and there is always a period of the season when you take a wee dip.
“It just so happened we had it at the wrong time when we had to win the game [against Rangers]. But it’s important as well. It’s a wake-up call. We’re over here, taking stock of it, we’ve spoken about it and know where we have to be better.
“There’s been an absolute meltdown about the game, but for us, it’s probably a good thing because people are now starting to write us off and looking at us to see: will they fall apart or will it galvanise the players and the club?
“Our job as players is to galvanise each other, get around each other. Understand where we went wrong and come back to be better again.”
McGregor and his Celtic team-mates have been showered with praise as they have completed clean sweeps of domestic trophies in the last three seasons and done well in the Champions League and Europa League.
The 26-year-old feels the Parkhead players must show resilience in adversity and respond to the setback they suffered before the winter shutdown and the pressure they are now under.
“For us, it’s easy to take the plaudits when it’s all going well, but when it turns a little bit, that’s when you find out the character of people and players and management,” he said.
“We have to stick together as a club and say: ‘You know what? We are not ready to give up these trophies. We are going to keep going and getting better to get over the line’.
“We’ve spoken about it in Dubai and we feel as though we’re in a good place to go forward and stick into this next half of the season. When people challenge your mentality, if you are not hurt by it or driven by it, you are in the wrong game. We’ve spoken as a group and know exactly what we have to do in the second half of the season. When people start pointing fingers at you, it hurts and we have to react in the right way.”
McGregor is one of a strong Scottish contingent at Celtic and he admitted the home-grown players have a more difficult time escaping from the fallout of an Old Firm defeat. However, he stressed that none of them is overreacting to the poor display and bad result against Rangers.
“That’s the thing about being from Glasgow,” he said. “There are a few boys in the teams who are local and we live with it 24/7. It’s great when you are doing well and the flip side is when you maybe lose a game. It’s a meltdown straight away.
“The message from us is that we know we have to be better than we were in that [Rangers] game, but let’s take stock and see where we are and what we have achieved already this season. We won the Betfred Cup, we topped our Europa League group and have a good draw which we are looking forward to. For us, there’s no panic stations.
“It’s everywhere you go in Glasgow, but that’s the responsibility you take. You take good with bad. We’ve had three or four unbelievable seasons and everything is up there. Then someone beats you and people say: What’s going on? It’s important for us to react to that and I think we have a group of good characters who will do so.”