Celtic remain steady while on top of Scottish Premiership
Celtic might be forgiven for taking their foot off the gas at the top of the Scottish Premiership table, given all the turmoil at bitter rivals Rangers.
The blue side of Glasgow have not had the best of times leading up to Christmas, with a loss to Queen of the South and the resignation of their manager Ally McCoist (albeit with a 12-month notice to serve).
Rangers languish nine points behind Hearts in the second-tier Championship and the presumed saunter back to the top table looks in serious doubt.
An unconvincing 1-0 win over Cowdenbeath last week is not really what the loyal fans were needing.
Meanwhile, Celtic are enjoying a rich vein of success domestically, winning eight games on the trot in the league.
The green side of Glasgow, though, only need to look over their shoulder to realise they are not the only big fish in the pond anymore – as opposed to recent seasons in which the absence of Rangers has seen Celtic cruise to the top-tier title.
Despite a recent blip, Inverness Caledonian Thistle are only six points behind the front-runners.
Lurking behind them, only one point adrift, sit the two teams everyone outside of Glasgow fear (now that the Edinburgh clubs are also in the lower leagues).
A Dundee United victory at Tannadice over the league leaders on Sunday will plant seeds of doubt in thoughts that this will be another title procession, while an expected three points for Aberdeen at home to Kilmarnock on Saturday – combined with a Celtic loss – will mean we are looking at the tightest Premiership table at Christmas since Rangers were condemned to their demotion fate.
Celtic, though, mostly look formidable and their northern rivals need to keep up the pressure if they are to worry the Glasgow side.
One thing in their favour is Celtic’s continuing foray into European competitions.
A poor Uefa Champions League qualification campaign saw Celtic suffer domestically at the start of the season and they face their old adversaries Inter Milan in the last 32 of the Europa League (Celtic became the first British club to win the European Cup when they defeated Inter in 1967).
At the other end of the Premiership table, Paisley side St Mirren are only one point behind Inverness club Ross County in the race to avoid the automatic relegation spot.
St Mirren can ease the pressure when they face fellow strugglers Motherwell on Saturday while County have a tough assignment against Hamilton Academical, who are looking to rebound following a heavy defeat to Aberdeen last time out.
There is a lot riding on staying up this season as with Rangers, Hearts and Hibernian all in the lower leagues, bouncing back will be no guarantee, regardless of who is promoted this season.
Celtic’s focus for now though will remain on much bigger prizes.
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Published: December 19, 2014 04:00 AM