Celtic captain Scott Brown’s 350th appearance for the club on Wednesday night provided him with no cause for celebrating that particular personal landmark.
But regardless of the 2-1 defeat at Pittodrie which cut Celtic’s lead over Aberdeen at the top of the Premiership table to three points, Brown is utterly certain he will be lifting the trophy on behalf of the Scottish champions for a fifth consecutive year at the end of the season.
The Scotland captain is far from dismissive of the challenge being posed by Derek McInnes’s men. On the contrary, he anticipates Aberdeen sustaining their bid to dethrone Celtic right until the business end of the campaign.
But Brown believes what he regards as the greater strength in depth and superior quality of Celtic’s squad will prove the decisive factor in their favour.
“There is always a title race but, at the end of the day, we will win the league again,” he said. “Yes, I’m absolutely certain. I think Aberdeen will fight us all the way to the end of the season but we know what we have to do and we know how to do it.
“We are ahead of them. We have the biggest squad in the league, about 26 players in that first-team dressing room now. We can chop and change four, five or six players and they are good players. We’ll see what happens in the coming weeks.
“I’m never happy after a defeat but we played not too badly at Aberdeen. We just didn’t create as many chances as we should have with the amount of possession we had.
“We have match-winners, game-changers and good defenders in our squad but it’s just not all happening at once right now. But people need to remember we are still three points clear. Aberdeen are still chasing us. We have two home games next in the league, so we need to stay positive. We’ve done it for the last four years now and we’ll be doing it again and lifting that trophy at the end of the season.”
Brown rejects any suggestions that Celtic’s current performance levels indicate that the players may no longer be fully committed to providing their best under Ronny Deila’s management. “No matter who the manager is, the players give 100 per cent,” he said. “The players worked just as hard at Pittodrie but just didn’t create as many chances as we should have.
“The players all get the abuse from social media and stuff like that, they know how the fans feel. But we just need the fans to stick with us and know that we will win the league at the end of the season and show that the manager is the right man for the job.”
Before Celtic resume the defence of their league title, they face Lowland League side East Kilbride in the fifth round of the Scottish Cup at Airdrie tomorrow afternoon.
With ambitions of a domestic treble crushed by last Sunday’s League Cup semi-final defeat by Ross County at Hampden, Brown appreciates the importance of success in the premier knockout tournament. “Winning a double always makes it a good season,” said the 30-year-old, who made his return to action as a substitute against Ross County following two months on the sidelines with a knee injury. Brown then displayed signs of rustiness against Aberdeen but his influence will be crucial to Celtic’s hopes of ending their season on a high note.
“I’m getting there slowly with my own fitness and 90 minutes was hard on Wednesday night,” he admitted. “But I’m getting back to normal and feel good. They were two tough pitches to play on, at Hampden and Pittodrie, but that’s Scottish football for you.
“I’ll be okay to play on the artificial pitch at Airdrie against East Kilbride. I’m looking forward to being involved and getting some more minutes under my belt.”