You might argue that Celtic have won more important titles in their history. Others have been claimed in a more dramatic fashion. But you’d do well to recall one quite as unlikely as this.
After six league games, Ange Postecoglou’s side had lost three times. A fan base which had suffered endlessly last season as ten-in-a-row went up in smoke was steeling itself for a level of pain that might have put them at breaking point.
The prospect of piecing together a 31-game unbeaten league run as they trudged out of Livingston on September 19 wasn’t so much distant as the stuff of fantasy.
Whatever small signs of promise were detectable in those early games, there were not enough to construct a compelling argument that it would all come together so spectacularly and so soon under the Australian. Coupled with Rangers’ staccato form after the winter break, Celtic’s remarkable consistency took them first to within touching distance of their great rivals and then past them.
Postecoglou had more than his fair share of harsh critics early in his tenure at Celtic – but few could have predicted how swift and complete the team’s turnaround would be under him
Celtic’s loss to Hearts to kick off the Australian’s time as boss was a million miles back in the rear view mirror when they sewed up the title against Dundee United
From the moment they finally moved to the top of the table by hammering the then champions 3-0 on February 2, they have not looked back.
They had one hand on the trophy when they came from behind to win at Ibrox early last month, a further four digits on it when Rangers failed to win at Celtic Park four weeks later and will complete the formalities by finally raising the trophy to the sky after Motherwell visit on Saturday.
Last night provided official confirmation; Celtic are champions again and deservedly so.
You could have named your price on that happening when Postecoglou’s hastily assembled side lost at Hearts on day one. It feels like that game now belongs to another season.
The side that day featured Scott Bain, Ismaila Soro, Ryan Christie and Odsonne Edouard. Carl Starfelt was all over the place. Kyogo Furuhashi made an unimpressive debut from the bench. It had all the hallmarks of a long, hard season.
Fans in Postecoglou masks celebrate as the Bhoys win the Scottish Premiership with a one-all draw at Tannadice
Postecoglou said ‘nobody gave us much of a chance’ when he joined the Hoops and admitted he was lost for words for the first time in his time with the side after their triumph
The new recruits Postecoglou so evidently needed duly arrived and gave an immediate infusion of quality; Joe Hart, Jota, Josip Juranovic and Cameron Carter-Vickers were late on the scene but still arrived with enough time to turn the stricken tanker around.
All three featured in the game which sparked the epic run — ironically a home draw with Dundee United — but it would be the win at Pittodrie next time out that changed the narrative. Incredibly, it was Celtic’s first league win on the road in nine months.
They drew just one of 11 league games going forward, with the momentum carrying them to victory over Hibs in the Premier Sports Cup final.
Furuhashi had returned from injury to fire the double which would lift the first silverware of the season but would be sidelined again with a serious hamstring injury as Postecoglou’s men won at St Johnstone on Boxing Day.
The Japanese would not be seen again until he emerged from the bench during a 7-0 hiding of the Perth men on April 7.
The loss of their talisman should have ended Celtic’s title challenge. Instead, in his absence, they took 34 points from a possible 36.
If their recruitment last summer had been necessarily extensive and inevitably some way short of perfect, they repeatedly hit the bullseye in January.
Celtic players celebrate the high point of what their manager called ‘two seasons in one’ – a rebuild season and a ‘season of success’
Daizen Maeda, Reo Hatate and Yosuke Ideguchi arrived before the Christmas decorations were down.
Injury has restricted the impact of the latter. But the speed and industry of Maeda caught the eye from his first outing. Hatate has tired lately but endeared himself to fans with his vision and eye for goal.
His double put Rangers to the sword before half-time in February and turned the season on its head. Matt O’Reilly signed later that month, the $2.6million MK Dons received tantamount to daylight robbery. His composure and guile elevated a fast-improving side to new heights while providing respite for the born-again Tom Rogic.
Giorgos Giakoumakis’ season has mirrored that of his side. The early struggles and frustrations giving way to an avalanche of goals and victories. Fourteen of his 15 strikes have come this year.
When he stated in February that Celtic were better than Rangers in every department, his comments were seen as brave by some, premature by others and ‘disrespectful’ by Ryan Jack. No one could now claim they were inaccurate.
Postecoglou had demanded his side burst through the tape on the winning line. They rather fell through it last night.
The issue could and should have been settled by half-time but a plethora of chances came and went. Tony Ralston fired over, James Forrest was denied by a defensive block and couldn’t turn home Giakoumakis’ cross, Hatate spurned two good openings.
Just when United were dreaming of securing the point that would secure a return to Europe, fine footwork by Ralston teed up Giakoumakis. A thumping header from six yards was the cue for the party to start.
How Benjamin Siegrist denied Jota the second with an outstretched arm, the winger will never know.
The significance of that save soon became apparent. Backing off Dylan Levitt, the Celtic defence invited the Welshman to try his luck from 25 yards. What a stunning strike he found to drag his team level.
Callum McGregor and Postecoglou embrace after the title officially became theirs
It made for a strangely nervous ending for Celtic. The normally dependable Hart flapped at crosses. It can happen to the best of them when the end is so close.
Ryan Edwards might have delayed the inevitable in stoppage time but sent his header wide. A spot in the Conference League qualifiers is United’s prize nonetheless.
Despite a patchy display, the final whistle sparked scenes of unbridled joy among visiting fans. Skipper Callum McGregor punched the air before leading his players in a merry dance as the smoke from pyrotechnics filled the air.
Given this was the very venue where the title was relinquished a year ago, there was a certain symmetry to it all.
Postecoglou stood back and drank in the joyous scene as his name echoed around the stadium. Doubtless, the man who arrived on these shores as a relative unknown last June will have briefly recalled the days when they were lining up to question the wisdom of his appointment. Wherever football takes him, no one will make that mistake again.