CELTIC manager Ronny Deila insists he will be happy to celebrate winning the Scottish Premiership title from the comfort of his living room this weekend.
That scenario became a possibility when a Leigh Griffiths hat-trick helped the defending champions defeat Dundee United 3-0 at Tannadice yesterday to move eight points clear of nearest rivals Aberdeen at the top of the table with four games remaining.
If Deila’s side beat Dundee at Celtic Park in their next fixture on Friday night, they will be crowned champions the following day if Aberdeen drop any points against United at Tannadice.
Should both Celtic and Aberdeen win next weekend, the title race will carry on to the clash between the pair at Pittodrie on 10 May when a draw would be enough for Deila’s men to close it out.
“I want to win the title as quickly as possible, I don’t want to choose when,” said Deila. “We will be very lucky if we win it when we are not playing as well. We have to beat Dundee on Friday, that’s what we are aiming for. If Aberdeen win next Saturday, then it’s going to be a huge game at Pittodrie the following week.
“That’s a game we really want to win. There is a lot to look forward to. Whatever happens, the game in Aberdeen is going to be huge because we want to show that we are the best team by going up there and performing. But first we have Dundee on Friday and we need to play much better than we did in the first half today.”
Celtic’s lifeless display in the goalless opening 45 minutes at Tannadice was fully compensated for by Griffiths’ treble after the break which takes him ahead of John Guidetti at the top of his club’s goalscoring chart for the season.
The Scotland international has become Deila’s first-choice striker in the second half of the campaign, a status the manager says he could retain for next season’s Champions League qualifiers. “It wasn’t a good feeling in the first half today,” added Deila. “We were very poor. There was a lack of intensity and aggression from us.
“But I think the players really answered in the second half and put what we needed into the game. The second half was good.
“Since I came in to the club, there have been a lot of changes but Leigh and myself have started to get to know each other better. He knows what I expect in that role and I know what he can contribute as well. That is making him safer on the pitch. He knows his tasks and now he gets consistency in playing time.
“He gets confidence and you can see how good he can be. As a finisher, he is very, very good and works very hard for the team as well.
“I’m not afraid of going into the European qualifiers with Leigh as my number one striker. He is showing he can score goals. If he continues working hard, he will score goals in Europe as well.”
Griffiths completed his hat-trick with an 84th minute penalty kick which TV replays confirmed should not have been awarded as John Rankin’s foul on Gary Mackay-Steven took place just outside the area.
But Deila was dismissive of any suggestion referee Willie Collum’s decision somehow counter-balanced the error which went against Celtic at Hampden the previous Sunday when Steven McLean failed to spot Josh Meekings’ penalty area handball in the Scottish Cup semi-final defeat by Inverness Caledonian Thistle.
“It was not easy for me to see the penalty incident today but if it was wrong, I don’t think it affected the game in any way,” said Deila. “We deserved to win and I was pleased with the performance in the second half. If we were only leading 1-0, I would understand it could be an issue. But not when it was the third goal.
“I agree that these things even themselves out over a season. But what happened at Hampden last Sunday was not a normal thing.
“I very rarely talk about decisions but last Sunday was a decision which really, really affected the game.
“We had full control of the game and were 1-0 up. We also had goal-line refs, so you can’t say it was the same as what happened today, whether it was wrong or right. It was a totally different thing.
“The cup is also just one game when a mistake puts you out. Over 38 games, the best team will win the league in the end.”
Dundee United manager Jackie McNamara, however, pointed out that the margin of defeat could still prove crucial to his team’s European aspirations as goal difference could become a factor.
“It was outside the box and it still matters because it’s a goal against us,” said McNamara. “We are now down to plus two rather than three with our goal difference, so these things are important.
“It was a mistake but, as we have seen, it happens, and it’s the same as players. It was a mistake by us which led to their first goal.
“But I am not going down the road of writing letters to the SFA, don’t take me down that road. I have enough to worry about without writing to people.
“I’ll just take the positives from the game. We started with four teenagers today and in the first half we went toe-to-toe with Celtic. I thought we were very good in the first half. Our passing was good and we were causing them problems.
“It was disappointing to concede so soon into the second half. It settled Celtic down and we got a bit nervous, maybe because of what had happened in the previous games.
“We lost our shape and discipline a bit. We have to learn about concentration but there were things that were pleasing.”