A guest blog on the site by Martin Connolly, assistant editor of SB Nation's Atletico Madrid site Into The Caulderon. You can follow Martin on twitter here and follow Into The Caulderon on twitter here.
Take your minds back to the 12th July last summer. Celtic were playing in a Champions League second qualifying round against misfits Lincoln Red Imps. The side from Gibraltar were expected to be easy work for the Bhoys but Football has a funny way of springing surprises. What occurred on that day became known as the darkest moment in recent history for Celtic. They lost 1-0 to a side which contained more taxi drivers than professional football players.
That it was Brendan Rodgers first game in charge made matters worse. The Celtic faithful expected improved performances from what they witnessed during the final few months of Ronny Deila’s stint. What they got, however, was an embarrassing defeat that no-one could have imagined possible. Changes were needed if Rodgers was to become a success instead of a laughing stock.
In the return leg, Celtic did gain some sort of dignity back as they hammered their minnow opponents 3-0 before negotiating tricky ties against FC Astana and Hapoel Be’er Sheva to reach the group stages for a much-welcomed financial boost. Once there, they found themselves up against European giants Barcelona and Manchester City, as well as Bundesliga’s Borussia Moenchengladbach. With some inspirational performances against City and a good draw in Germany, Celtic bowed out with their heads held high; A far cry from their disastrous showing in Gibraltar only a few months prior.
Perhaps Celtic needed that defeat to wake them up. Perhaps even Rodgers needed a reality check that this job was tougher than he could have imagined. It certainly is a blip in an otherwise stellar season for the club. Not since a 2-2 draw with Inverness on matchday 6 have Celtic failed to pick up 3 points in any contest in the league. Convincing wins against Rangers, Aberdeen and Hearts have been satisfying while a 4-3 thrilling victory in Motherwell showed this side can win close games just as well. The record breaking form that the Bhoys have displayed has set them on their way to making even more history.
Last week’s 2-0 win over Mark McGhee’s side at Celtic Park made it 31 straight wins over Scottish opposition. With 13 league games left on the calendar as well as an extra couple of cup games, there’s no reason they can’t increase that number. This team is not only talented, but also deep. The absence of Tom Rogic should have hurt. But James Forrest has been a revelation, showing the sort of consistency he lacked in recent years while the emergence of youngster Liam Henderson is another exciting facet of this campaign.
It’s hard to believe, especially with all the talk of how uncompetitive Scottish football is claimed to be, but Celtic haven’t won a domestic treble since 2001. A double from Henrik Larsson and another by Jackie McNamara sealed a 3-0 win over Hibs in the Scottish Cup Final, thus handing the club their first treble in over 30 years. The treble-winning side back then contained the likes of Johan Mjallby, Neil Lennon, Chris Sutton and Stilian Petrov to name but a few legends associated with the achievement. These are the icons the current crop will be looking to side with in the history books should they succeed in their quest for near-invincibility.
For a season that started on such a downer in Gibraltar, it could only get better from there. But no-one could have predicted it would lead to this. A setback, as humiliating as the one this side suffered all the way back in July, could have been disastrous mentally. By refusing to let such a loss define their season, they showed their true character. Celtic are on the cusp of something special, and their attempts at making history shouldn’t be overlooked.