Twelve months ago, Celtic surged 19 points clear at the top of the Premiership with a 2-1 win over Rangers at Ibrox and headed into their winter break in Dubai secure in the knowledge a sixth consecutive league title was effectively in the bag.
Any like-for-like comparisons with what proved to be the most statistically stunning and dominant season in Scottish football history will inevitably show a drop in those numbers, so Brendan Rodgers and his players can certainly remain more than content with the eight-point advantage they enjoy at the summit as they travel once again to the Arabian holiday hotspot later this week.
Seven-in-a-row for Celtic remains the most likely outcome to this campaign, regardless of their struggles to find the same performance levels they managed on such a consistent basis during Rodgers’ first year in charge.
But while they continue to hold a position of strength at domestic level, Saturday’s 0-0 draw at home to Rangers offered further evidence of a need for Celtic’s squad to be freshened up in the January transfer window.
It’s a process Rodgers has already started, with the signing of German central defender Marvin Compper, and he admitted after the Old Firm stalemate that he expects what he described as “revolving door” activity in the market to take place over the next few weeks.
The same scenario can be anticipated across the city as Graeme Murty attempts to put his own stamp on the dysfunctional Rangers squad he has inherited from Pedro Caixinha. The Ibrox side are still some way short of reaching the standards required to mount a genuine title challenge but there were clear signs at Celtic Park on Saturday that Murty could prove the sceptics wrong and be the man capable of moulding just that type of team.
His makeshift line-up, deprived of Kenny Miller, Lee Wallace, Graham Dorrans and Ryan Jack through injury beforehand, had to be shuffled after just 18 minutes when Bruno Alves limped off.
If Rangers were fortunate not to trail at half-time, James Forrest and Scott Sinclair failing to convert excellent chances for Celtic as Wes Foderingham excelled for the visitors, then they could consider themselves hard done by in the second half when they were denied victory by a couple of exceptional Craig Gordon saves and some wayward finishing by Alfredo Morelos.
Moral victories don’t win silverware but in astutely guiding Rangers to a second consecutive share of the spoils at Parkhead, following the 1-1 draw during his first spell in interim charge last March, Murty has earned kudos that should buy him valuable time in persuading both the Ibrox board and supporters he deserves to remain as manager beyond the end of this season.
“Everyone gets on well with him,” observed young defender David Bates, who performed admirably alongside the outstanding Danny Wilson in the heart of the Rangers back four after replacing Alves.
“He’s come in and given the place a right lift. We need to back him and show it on the pitch. You can see how he set us up at Celtic Park. He makes us hard to beat. It’s up to the board and people way above us about his future. We will just play as well as we can for him.
“He has told me before the games I’ve played that he trusts me to go out and do it, to put on a good performance. He has helped me a lot. I worked with him in the under-20s team. He used to teach me dropping off and defending.”
If Rangers were the happier side at the final outcome, the draw was hardly a deadly setback for Celtic who have now gone two calendar years without losing at home to domestic opponents.
Frustration rather than disappointment was the dominant emotion in the home camp as midfielder Stuart Armstrong reflected upon a 90 minutes which, while always absorbing to watch, was generally of low quality.
“In the first half we did quite well and created a number of chances,” said Armstrong. “If we score then, it changes the game completely and it opens them up.
“As the game went on, it turned more physical and more into an end-to-end basketball game. We were a bit slow to get started in the second half and they had a number of chances, too. So maybe a draw was a fair result.
“It was more frantic than usual in the second half. Usually, under pressure, we cope well and we play it out. But with the type of game that it was, it wasn’t as fluid as we would have liked and it did get more physical and scrappy.”
Armstrong was quick to hail the contribution of goalkeeper Gordon who, the day before his 35th birthday, made highlight reel stops to deny close-range efforts from James Tavernier and Morelos.
“Both of Craig’s saves were terrific,” Armstrong said. “At the time, I didn’t know how he saved them. He’s got that in him and he’s done fantastic to keep us in the game. If Rangers had scored, it would have been a big uphill climb, so he deserves praise. Craig gets a lot of criticism, but when you are a goalkeeper or a defender and you make a mistake, it gets amplified.
“In big games, he has come up with the goods for us time and again.”