Celtic’s unbeaten domestic run will eventually come to an end. When it does, the likelihood is that they will have contributed to their own downfall, because when they are playing at their best – or even anywhere near their best – there is not a team in the land who can better them.
It is a fact acknowledged by the players, the manager, the fans and their rivals, with St Johnstone manager Tommy Wright pointing to the gulf in finances and in class and admitting that there is not one member of his team who could force their way into the Celtic starting line-up. Possibly not even into the squad.
Yet, his men were the last Scottish team to beat the Parkhead side, back in May 2016. Under different management back then, in the shape of the soon to be ousted Ronny Deila, Celtic have been an immovable force since Brendan Rodgers assumed control, one game into their now 63-game dominant run. And it is hard to see how that superiority can be dented without Celtic weighing in and somehow shooting themselves in the foot.
“Is the only thing that can stop us ourselves?” pondered Scott Sinclair, last season’s player of the year. “That’s it because when you look what we’ve achieved it’s down to us.”
A key player to the invincible campaign, Sinclair has not hit the same heights this term but, such is their strength in depth, the Glasgow outfit continue to steamroller their way through the domestic challenges placed before them. Already into the first major cup final of the season and with a 75 per cent win rate in the Premiership, two of the three draws could be explained away as Champions League hangovers as they continue to strive for improvement on foreign soil.
“We need to keep improving, not get complacent and keep moving in the right direction,” warned Sinclair, underlining the professionalism that has underpinned their success. “It is down to us taking every game as it comes. That’s what we’ve done. We really have just looked at things game by game. We have beaten the record now so we want to go on and keep breaking our own record.”
The 62-game record was already Celtic’s but, in going at least one better, this group of players have ensured it is their names now writ large in the history books, usurping Willie Maley’s team of 1915-17.
Fielding an unchanged side for the first time this season, Rodgers had seen his men grab control of proceedings, with the likes of Stuart Armstrong, Kieran Tierney, James Forrest and Sinclair all keen to get forward in support of Moussa Dembele and bolster the attacking threat. That earned them a corner and from Armstrong’s delivery Sinclair side-footed it past Zander Clark in the home goal.
After that, against a side who have struggled to score in recent weeks – this defeat makes it six matches without a goal – it was simply a matter of how one-sided the scoreline would be as they created history.
“It’s great and the run just shows the team spirit, the hard work we have put in and the mentality we have,” said Sinclair. “I have loved it, playing every week and scoring goals.”
In the 71st minute, Celtic made it two and it was the kind of sweeping team goal that sums up the strength of a side, where every player is comfortable on the ball, has a great workrate and understanding and is confident in everyone else’s ability.
Dembele got things going with a ball out to Tierney. Armstrong made an overlapping run and when he was played in by the Scotland full-back he drove at the byeline before dinking a perfectly weighted cross for Dembele to wrap it up.
Three minutes later Saints centre-back Steven Anderson stuck out a leg to try to cut out a Dembele cross but sent it past his own keeper, and in the 88th minute substitute Olivier Ntcham rounded things off, driving home a low drive to conclude another delightful passing move and allow them to mark the occasion in style.
“We haven’t thought about [breaking the record] too much although I’m sure in the weeks to come we will realise it and evaluate the situation,” added Sinclair. “Right now, I don’t think we really understand what we have achieved.
“I haven’t been looking back at the team from the past, it’s only really what people have been telling me. For us, it has been about not thinking too much about it and just focusing on the goals we have set, which is to keep winning.
“We want to raise the bar, keep winning and make sure it doesn’t stop now. You saw against Bayern that everyone gave it one hundred per cent but then we went to St Johnstone and gave it the same amount of effort because the confidence and mentality is there to make sure our standards don’t drop.
“It is a collective thing, I have never been at a better, well-gelled team where everyone is so together on and off the pitch.
“Winning mentality is the biggest thing, every game we go into we want to win and if we can break more records along the way then great. We don’t want to stop now, sit back and say ‘well we beat the record’. We have to keep working hard.
“The manager never lets us drop our standards, no matter whether it’s training or whoever we are playing against. He always wants us to give 100 per cent and to do the right things.”