The sun bathed Celtic Park yesterday. And the frivolity of the denizens within it served to illustrate they do not see it setting on their six-in-a-row champions any time soon. Not before that figure reaches a record double figures...
In that context, as much as the glorious weather, Brendan Rodgers agreeing a new four-year deal on the Friday created the fuzzy, warm glow enveloping the stadium. Indeed, the only shade of note across the afternoon was that cast on the face of the Celtic manager by his fingers as, during his squad’s latest post-match lap of honour, he joined in with the Green Brigade as they thrust upwards their ten-in-a-row-style jazz hands and chanted for him to deliver the sequence.
“I was just stretching my fingers,” he offered with a knowing grin. “It’s a great day for us. It’s been a fantastic week [with the title win]. And committing the next four years of my life to here is no hardship. It’s an incredible club to work for and there is much more to do here, much more to achieve before there’s ever ten-in-a-row mentioned. The supporters are happy, they enjoy watching their team and I was applauding them on that.”
He doesn’t need told of the fans’ obsession with reaching the unprecedented ten mark. “They have been singing it since the first day, since I came in here,” he said. “I wondered what they were singing. That’s my job, to try and help them achieve that.”
Amidst all this froth, the victory and the nature of it, almost seemed incidental. Kilmarnock, with their committed rope-a-dope on a day when they were consigned to the bottom six, produced a 65th minute equaliser from Jordan Jones to an cancel out an earlier Stuart Armstrong strike. Both men benefitting from deflections, the Celtic man from a longer range and the strikes made for an intriguing five minute spell.
That was ended when Scott Sinclair netted goal No. 23 by thumping in from a yard out after Patrick Roberts had latched on to a Dedryck Boyata header sent beyond the far post and knocked it into winger’s path. Celtic received a new lease of life when injury-returnees Tom Rogic and Moussa Dembele were introduced 72nd minutes in. The Frenchman’s first contribution after three weeks out proving the catalyst for a third goal. A delightful flick into his path from Rogic – in what was only his second game since shoulder surgery in December – sent Dembele racing towards goal before he smacked a shot that looped up and cannoned off the post for James Forrest to head in.
A ten-in-a row figure might be exercising many among the Celtic faithful, but Rodgers refuses to be preoccupied with even a straight sequence of eight: the number of games his team now require to negotiate to claim the treble without losing a domestic game, yesterday their 39th encounter on the home front without loss.
After Ross County in Dingwall next Sunday they will face Rangers in the Scottish Cup semi-final a week later and Rodgers’ squad management all leads to that day at Hampden.
“We’ll have Leigh [Griffiths] back in training on Tuesday as well. It’s just about having every player. Once we won the league it was key to get to that game in the best condition that we can. We made changes in midweek though the result wasn’t quite what we wanted I still got a lot from that. And today you seen the identity of the team, the quality, the confidence. So we’ll recover now and get ready for Ross County.”
The unbeaten run will always be a by-product of the game-to-game concentration, Rodgers would maintain. “I am very proud of what the team has achieved up until now. We want to keep developing,” he said. “Up here, in particular, those last five games are tough games, when the split comes, you are playing against the top teams, so that makes it even more difficult. I can’t ask anymore and I don’t think the team can give any more when you see the quality of the football today and that charisma in how they are playing and working, fighting and pressing. We are prepared, we are ready, we go in to win and that’s what we continue to do.”