It’s August 2021. Filip Helander thumps home a header from Borna Barisic’s brilliant corner in the Old Firm derby to continue Steven Gerrard’s run of success with champions Rangers. With that sole goal, Ange Postecoglou has become the first Celtic manager in 12 years to lose his first Glasgow derby fixture and the Hoops have begun their season with two wins and two defeats to sit in sixth spot.
Since that day at Ibrox, Celtic have lost two of 67 league matches, regained the crown of champions and suffered a single defeat to their old enemy in eight league and cup encounters. Even that one loss has now been avenged, with last season’s Scottish Cup semi-final defeat now a distant memory following Jota’s winner in the repeat clash on Sunday. As a result, Celtic will head back to Hampden next month for a tilt at a record-extending 41st domestic senior cup triumph as Postecoglou’s revolution threatens only to speed up rather than slow down.
Perhaps it was in the event of a rare failure to win that the Australian’s standards for his side were exemplified. The 1-1 home draw with Motherwell was just their second draw among 31 wins in their last 33 domestic matches since defeat at St Mirren in September, and represented their first blemish at Parkhead in an otherwise 100 per cent run of form since a 1-1 home draw with Rangers on May 1, 2022.
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Far from accept that “you can’t win every game” as some more philosophical managers might have claimed, Ange insisted that his side have to be better. “The performance probably wasn’t at the level we have been reaching,” he told the BBC afterwards. “We conceded a really poor goal and that gives them something to hold on to. We had chances to go on and win it but there was desperation around our play, we lacked composure in the box.”
No matter that his team had moved within a single win of a second successive title. No matter that they had been fantastic for so long that they had arguably earned an off day. Postecoglou knows that in the goldfish bowl that is Glasgow you have to win the league, the cup and the League Cup as a bare minimum. The way you do it is what sets you apart.
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Celtic have won seven domestic trebles, four of them in the last six seasons. An eighth would see them usurp Rangers to become the first club in world football to record eight. Postecoglou is on the verge of joining Jock Stein, Martin O’Neill, Brendan Rodgers and Neil Lennon by bringing back all three trophies to Celtic Park.
It’s arguable that Celtic fans would have been forgiving if Postecoglou hadn’t been successful early on. Rangers had just won the Premiership at a canter under Gerrard, recording an unbeaten league season, and looked a strong bet for another title. But as the Gers wavered following the former England midfielder’s ill-fated departure for Aston Villa, Postecoglou was just starting to pull his squad into shape across the city.
Kyogo Furuhashi was the big addition among a now five-star injection of Japanese talent, with the head coach making the most of his experiences and contacts in the J-League. But he has been smart elsewhere too, adding Sunday’s matchwinner Jota from Benfica, picking up former England keeper Joe Hart and bringing in the likes of Carl Starfelt, Liel Abada and Cameron Carter-Vickers, all of whom have helped to bring up the standards.
Considering barely 18 months ago a Celtic win in an Old Firm game was a big news story, Sunday’s latest triumph practically slipped under the radar in comparison. After a year or two of Rangers supremacy, the Hoops are once more the dominant force in Glasgow, and by some considerable distance too.
While Rangers should be expected to come hard at them in 2023-24, the real question appears to be whether Postecoglou can start to transfer their untouchable form into some sort of European progress. With another treble in sight, a ninth next year is also a very probable eventuality.
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