Normal-ish service was resumed for Celtic last night as they registered a victory that moved them five points clear at the top of the Scottish Premiership.
Brendan Rodgers’ men were anything but scintillating in shaking off a first domestic defeat in 19 months that had arrived in such shocking fashion with a 4-0 flailing at Hearts three days earlier. Yet, they hardly needed to be against a Partick Thistle side that offered little enterprise and were undone by stellar strikes in each half from Stuart Armstrong and Kieran Tierney.
The win for a team that created so much history in racking up a British record 69 domestic games without loss ensured they have not been entirely deprived of milestone-making following their spectacular collapse at Tynecastle on Sunday. Last night’s 2-0 success means they have now gone two years and one day since a Scottish team last beat them on their own patch. It is more than a decade since they could last boast that achievement.
It was always going to be intriguing to see how Rodgers and his team responded to a first domestic defeat in his tenure. The end of their remarkable run without loss on the home front didn’t just rip from them their cloak of invincibility; the drubbing dished out by Hearts at Tynecastle left them in the altogether.
Not since the night that ended Tony Mowbray’s brief, ill-fated tenure away to St Mirren in March 2010 had Celtic been beaten by a four-goal margin in a domestic encounter. Not since 1895, had Hearts won so handsomely against the Glasgow club.
To have such brutal statistics replace the triumphant ones that Rodgers has consistently racked up since his arrival at Celtic in the summer of 2016 did not result in him making scapegoats of the team that, frankly, were shambolic in being cuffed by Craig Levein’s men. There were only couple of changes from that line-up – one enforced.
On the day Celtic paraded new central defensive recruit Marvin Compper, the 32-year-old signed from RB Leipzig in a £1 million deal, injury resulted in Kristoffer Ajer replacing the out-of-touch Jozo Simunovic. The Bosnian might have been relieved at the opportunity of a break from a hellish spell of mishaps.
The 19-year-old Paris Saint-Germain loanee Odsonne Edouard was preferred in attack to the benched Moussa Dembele and Leigh Griffiths.
Yet, whatever side the Irishman sent out would have been expected to take care of the Premiership’s bottom club Thistle. If Celtic had handpicked a side to get themselves back on track following Tynecastle it would have been their city neighbours – the only team in the Premiership not to have won away this season.
Alan Archibald’s men, though, proved more than stubborn opponents in the early stages. They did not seek to copy Hearts’ high press but rather ensured they had numbers in their defensive third. For long passages of the first half, it had the desired effect for a team that had only avoided defeat in two of their previous six encounters.
The ponderous nature of the home side’s build-up play assisted the Thistle cause. The zip and quick transitions that made Celtic such an irresistible force in Scotland across Rodgers’ first season have been little in evidence in recent months as the champions have failed to string together a winning league run of more than two games. Tomas Cerny’s goal wasn’t seriously threatened across the opening half-hour and, indeed, a Danny Devine goalbound header that Scott Brown nodded out of harm’s way was the only cause of mild alarm for either team in that period. It was no surprise then that it took a moment of individual brilliance for Celtic to break down their visitors.
As with so many of his team-mates, Armstrong hasn’t produced the exceptional performance this season at the rate he did in the last campaign, but there was no disputing the craft and class that he delivered in the 35th minute. A cut-back from Tierney on the left set him up to dance his way into the penalty box and arrow a ferocious effort high into the far corner of the net.
A series of corners early in the second half was as close as the Partick came to producing a response. They seemed accepting of their fate even before Tierney condemned them to it with 22 minutes remaining. The left-back did so by providing the finishing touch to the sort of passing move that has been the trademark of Rodgers’ team. Fed by Armstrong, the Scotland international played one-two with Scott Sinclair before ramming an unstoppable effort in from eight yards.
It was notable, though, that the biggest cheers of the evening did not arrive until a minute later when, in the 69th minute, the stadium was roused to raucous acclaim in acknowledgement of the team’s record run.
It’s a sequence unlikely ever to have an equal in the Scottish game.