A wonderful Christmas time


How good was that?

Skippy’s Christmas special video

As a game it was woeful, barely anything of note, hardly any goalmouth incidents, not many outstanding performances and few incidents or controversies.

But we all know that it’s not just a game, it’s not 90 minutes and three points. Winning at Ibrox is simply wonderful, in the mid eighties we had a regular run of it and again in the first half of this decade the wins came fairly regularly as well, even inspiring the stat the Neil Lennon won more SPL games at Ibrox than the messiah known as Paul le Guen.

Lenny was back at Ibrox again yesterday but a new generation of Celts added the label of ‘Won at Ibrox’ line to their cv.

SPL winners, some two or three times over, Champions League qualifiers, again achieved twice by some of the players.

Last season’s title triumph was awesome and we’re still feeding off it. The dark scary days that followed that home defeat from Motherwell are history as seven wins on the bounce, two over UEFA Cup finalists gave us a fantastic and unexpected league win on that strange, glorious and emotional night at Tannadice as our dreams came true.

Those league winners are now getting cocky, strutting their stuff and even a 2-4 loss to Rangers in August hasn’t dented their confidence. A punishing Champions League campaign saw them bounce back domestically to overtake Rangers who had the benefits of a full week to prepare for SPL action as Gordon Strachan attempted success on two fronts against an injury list that almost became overwhelming.

The build up to Ibrox was dominated by who wouldn’t be playing, no Shaun Maloney or suspended Aiden McGeady, Marc Crossas still short of match fitness, Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink missing for three months and doubts over the match fitness of Barry Robson and Paul Hartley.

Pre-match and Shunsuke Nakamura is also out of the picture with flu and by half-time Andreas Hinkel has been kicked off the park. Despite those circumstances the resolve was solid stemming from a battle hardened core of Stephen McManus and Gary Caldwell through Hartley, Robson and Scott Brown to the magnificent Scott McDonald.

Our moany faced goal machine wasn’t getting much support from Georgios Samaras whose going through an infuriating spell of almost always making the wrong decisions whatever the situation.

Remaining on the ball too long, passing when he shouldn’t, beating one man too many and losing possession are all features of Sammy’s play recently and they were in evidence again at Ibrox.

Until, until until the 57th minute when he got in a header in front of Davie Weir; with his back to goal McDonald knew exactly what he was doing.

With one touch on his chest to tame the ball, McDonald teed things up as he turned around to leave Kirk Broadfoot catching flies before skelping the ball over Allan McGregor into the net from 18 yards out before spinning away to celebrate in front of the Celtic support.

It was a moment of class and composure and richly deserved for McDonald who quickly corrected his scoring record against Rangers to ‘three in two’ from ‘three in five’ when he was interviewed on Setanta after the match.

Darren O’Dea was ready to come on before the goal was scored, Strachan stuck with his convictions and sent the Dubliner on in place of Koki Mizuno with O’Dea moving to left back pushing Lee Naylor further forward.

There was little threat from Rangers, although fraught with tension and fear of an equaliser there was no real panic with the central defenders dealing easily with Rangers crosses into the box and protecting the still shaky Artur Boruc.

When called upon the keeper was up to the challenge, blocking purposefully from Kris Boyd early in the second half when the striker was sent through on goal.

After the match the reaction from Celtic was sensible and restrained but after turning around a seven point deficit last season the same group of players are unlikely to throw away a seven point advantage on the back of a win at Ibrox.

The depth and determination of the squad has been tested and came out on top with a seven point advantage through the trickiest of circumstances.

The Aiden McGeady incident has strengthened the hand of a manager who will never please a large section of the Celtic support but his stubborn desire to succeed can never be doubted.

The next game with Rangers is only five SPL games away. The gap between the top two is more likely to be extended rather than trimmed, if that is the case Celtic have the ideal opportunity on February 15 to put the SPL beyond Rangers.

Having fought and scrapped their way into this position it’s highly unlikely that complacency will be an issue, especially with a squad of 20 players all capable of playing their part and entitled to think of themselves as first team starters.

Happy Christmas Hoops.

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