Celtic coach John Kennedy yesterday tried to apply some perspective to the Premiership leaders’ 1-1 draw with Rangers at Parkhead on Sunday – the first points dropped at home by the champions since Ross County achieved the same result on 24 April last year.
The visiting players celebrated their point at the weekend with enthusiasm more befitting a cup win and, on supporters’ websites, some Rangers fans were claiming that the result proved that the gulf between the two clubs is not unbridgeable.
Kennedy, however, chose to interpret that reaction as a tribute to the stature that Brendan Rodgers’ side enjoys in the Scottish game, one where Celtic currently have no credible challengers.
“We can do [that],” he said. “Obviously, they’ve been under pressure and they’ve come in for a lot of criticism this season so maybe that’s the reason they were celebrating.
“People probably wrote them off before the game but we didn’t – in house, we were preparing as best as we probably could.
“Looking at the result in context, though, we’re still unbeaten in 35 domestic games while the reality for Rangers is that they’ve fallen two points further behind Aberdeen and that gap has opened up.
“But it’s about ourselves and us only. It’s not between us and Rangers; yes, it’s a derby match and there is a rivalry there when the game comes around but the bigger picture is that we look after ourselves.
“We’re 25 points ahead of Aberdeen in the league and 33 points clear of Rangers and we’ll just keep motoring on until we get the title wrapped up.”
Celtic were far from their best against Rangers and, seven days earlier, had struggled for an hour at home to the Championship’s bottom club, St Mirren, who led at half-time before losing 4-1 in the quarter-finals of the Scottish Cup.
“It was the same thing; they gave us a scare in the first half but that’s the way it is – nothing is a formality for us,” said Kennedy.
“Our standards have been very high and that’s the reason we’ve won so many games and gone undefeated for so long. We’ve been at it.
“We push ourselves to the limit and we did that on Sunday as well but we just didn’t click. It could have been worse [because] we still got a reasonably positive result.
“But there are no formalities in football; if you take your eye off the ball then you will get punished. Look at Barcelona at the weekend – they thrash PSG, one of the best teams in Europe in midweek, then lose to Deportivo La Coruna yesterday. That’s the way football is.”
Even so, while accepting Celtic turned in arguably their poorest Premiership display of the campaign against Rangers, Kennedy has no doubt that they should have been granted the opportunity to win the game from the penalty spot in the dying seconds after Clint Hill brought down Leigh Griffiths as he was about to shoot.
Former Rangers striker Steven Thompson claimed on Sportscene, to widespread ridicule, that Hill “had not fouled him enough” to justify a spot-kick being awarded.
“That’s the first time I’ve heard that one,” said Kennedy. “I’ve seen it again and, for me, it’s a penalty kick. He makes minimal contact with the ball and only does that after the actual foul.
“As a defender myself, being in that position, you’re going to have to take the player and make a foul in order to reach the ball.
“He also fouled Leigh at the start of that play before he knocks him out of his stride as he’s about to finish but the decision was made and we haven’t lost the game.”
Kennedy argued that, on reflection, it was better for Celtic to have under-performed on Sunday than in their Scottish Cup semi-final against Rangers on 23 April.
“We have a cushion in the league and that helps if you slip up,” he said. “Going into cup games you obviously can’t afford to do that so this certainly gives us a little shake.
“It wasn’t a case of us taking our foot off the gas. It was just our performance was sub-par for the standards we’ve set.
“Every player out there was giving everything he had. Rangers gave us problems, we had periods in the game when we got control but towards the end we lost that and were giving too much away.
“Rangers probably deserved a point from the game but that means we’ll be better prepared, mentally, for the semi-final when it comes.”
l John Kennedy was speaking to publicise the charity match between sides led by former stars Henrik Larsson and Lubomir Moravcik at Parkhead on 28 May, with proceeds going to the club’s charity foundation.