When a title only has to be rubber-stamped, a blot on the landscape is easier to accept. So it was then that Brendan Rodgers yesterday could be philosophical about only his third domestic defeat across 89 such games during his 21 months in charge of Celtic.
The 2-1 defeat by Hibernian at Easter Road was also perhaps easier to accept because the outcome was just. And also perhaps because it means Celtic may have the chance to wrap up a seventh straight title by dishing out even more derby misery on Rangers at Parkhead next Sunday – the scenario the SPFL ham-fistedly sought to avoid, but which many Celtic faithful wished for more than doing so against their former manager Neil Lennon’s second-place chasing Easter Road side.
Celtic were harried to submission by a Hibs team whose appetite for the fray placed the supine efforts of Rangers in losing 4-0 to Rodgers’ side in last weekend’s Scottish Cup semi-final in an even more shameful light.
The league loss for Celtic – which follows Premiership defeats by Hearts and Kilmarnock in the past five months – creates a curiosity. Rodgers’ men may only be a Scottish Cup final win away from unprecedented back-to-back trebles but their top-flight record this season won’t be close to that achieved by the much-maligned Ronny Deila in his first season, and could yet be worse than that achieved in his supposedly ill-fated second season.
The domination Rodgers’ men have achieved in the Scottish game across his tenure means they have earned the right to have off days that do not matter in the grand scheme of things, though, and the Celtic manager admitted that the loss in Leith was one of those.
“The best team won,” he said. “Hibs over the course of the game were better than us. We didn’t defend well enough in terms of our spacing and pressing, it wasn’t so good. And we weren’t quick enough on the ball, so when you play like that you make it difficult for yourselves.
“We were better second half, we kept the ball for longer in their half which allows you to create a bit more. And you have to keep fighting.
“Sometimes you just have to take your medicine and congratulate Hibs, then look to the next game.”
That next game could yet be after the destination of the title – a foregone conclusion – has been officially settled. Were Hearts to beat Rangers at Ibrox today and then win at Aberdeen on Friday night then Celtic would be uncatchable before they meet Graeme Murty’s side at lunchtime next Sunday.
“Ideally, every coach and manager would say they’d love to win it while they’re playing,” said Rodgers. “Behind the goal today was packed with our supporters and we were hoping to do it but unfortunately we didn’t. We’ve collected enough points to give us an advantage if there are any slip-ups, but we’ll take it into next weekend.”
Rodgers’ own personal form was good as he gave every impression that the remaining league games would not be the last of his Celtic reign. He was, perhaps surprisingly, strong over his commitment to the club in the face of reports linking him to the Arsenal managerial post to be vacated by Arsene Wenger next month.
“I’ve always said that I’m living my dream here,” he said. “I am obviously privileged to be here as the manager of Celtic.
“This is a huge club with big demands and I want to help the club grow and develop. In order to do that it’s about happiness.
“There will be somewhere I can go and maybe earn two or three times more money than where I am now but it’s not about that.
“I’ve worked through for ten years as a young coach and I’m still relatively young as a manager at 45.
“I am happy in my professional life and really content outside of that as well.”