Only the daft and deluded –and admittedly a few could be placed in those camps – didn’t appreciate that, even before a ball was kicked this season, it was when and not if for Brendan Rodgers becoming a title-winner at Celtic in his first season.
Yet there are whens, and there are whens. And this when topped all the others in the modern day as Celtic were officially crowned champions with eight league games remaining. No side has claimed the top-flight honour with so much football to spare in the current set-up.
It was fitting that Rodgers’ side ultimately proved as rampant on the day of their crowning as they have been throughout a domestic campaign that, in effect, has been one long coronation.
Oddly, though, their complete domination – reflected in their Premiership record reading 28 wins and two draws across an unbeaten 37-game sequence on the home front – resulted in one notable slippage from the Ronny Deila era: the celebrations.
When the Norwegian essentially led Celtic to their fifth consecutive title at Tynecastle 11 months ago – with a potential mammoth goal difference turnaround dismissed – there were genuinely gleeful scenes led by cavorting Celtic players over in the corner of the stand housing the 1,500 visiting supporters. Acrobatic party tricks were performed by any number of players, while Deila also worked the fans to roars and general raucousness.
Yesterday was so much more muted. Even allowing for the obligatory t-shirts, the celebrations might even have seemed on the tokenistic side. Indeed, apart from Kieran Tierney leaving the field with bare torso, there didn’t seem a lot of abandon in their moment of triumph, with Rodgers notably measured in his acceptance of his supporters’ acclaim.
Of course, there was a huge difference between these two triumphs. On occasion last season there were flickers of doubt that Deila’s team would be able to repel Aberdeen’s challenge. Under Rodgers, there have been no doubts that Celtic would be head and shoulders above any other team in the Premiership.
That assurance was witnessed in microcosm in Gorgie at lunchtime yesterday. Hearts initially made Celtic appear fragile. Yet it was no surprise to anyone who has watched Rodgers’ team in domestic assignments that this didn’t last. Even as Craig Gordon repeatedly held Hearts at bay there was a general expectation that Celtic would produce the finesse to get the job done.
Celtic haven’t always steamrollered teams. They have, though, almost always shown they have the craft and class to set themselves apart to answer any questions being posed by opponents.
Even more than the 32-goal Moussa Dembele, who missed out through injury yesterday, it is Scott Sinclair, a hat-trick bagger at Tynecastle, who has had the greatest knack of conjuring up these ingenious and inventive game-transforming moments.
Sinclair’s two goals in three minutes that turned the contest on its head were further demonstrations of his explosiveness as an attacker. He burns markers in the penalty box with pace, control and awareness and displayed all three weapons in playing a one-two with Patrick Roberts before blitzing the ball high into the net for the opener.
Roberts’ curling finish for Celtic’s fourth early in the second period was as artful as Sinclair was ruthless in drilling home for his second, while Stuart Armstrong chipped in with a flashing drive for the third just after the interval.
Much was made of Roberts playing through the middle in the injury absence of Leigh Griffiths and Dembele. But, in reality, the thrust that is applied from front to middle in Rodgers’ Celtic teams means at any one time it always appears that they have at least a trident of attackers. Precisely why they are now only two games – a Scottish Cup semi-final and decider – away from claiming a treble that could also appear predestined.