ON a dank and chilly evening in the dog days of October, Celtic and Hibernian played out a drab, uninspired goalless draw that has almost been forgotten in the myth and legend that is the resurrection story of a title challenge.
All eyes are now compelled to be focused instead on the dramatic comeback two weeks earlier at Rugby Park when three goals were conceded in the first half but a point rescued in the second. But the draw against Hibs seemed dispiriting, perhaps even terminal to a sustained tilt at the Clydesdale Bank Premier League title. Instead, Neil Lennon has led his side to 17 successive, domestic victories. It is an extraordinary achievement made more meritorious by afternoons such as that on Saturday.
Celtic did not play particularly well against an Inverness Caledonian Thistle side who caused them problems through the pace of Jonny Hayes, the less than subtle urgings of Richie Foran and the determination of a defence diligently schooled by Terry Butcher and Maurice Malpas. The league leaders also played for almost 20 minutes with 10 men, did not force Ryan Esson into a series of dramatic saves and seemed justifiably diminished by their efforts at Tynecastle. But they won.
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Foran later made forthright remarks about the dismissals of Daniel Majstorovic of Celtic and the visitors' Steve Williams. The Swede was regarded by many to have at least made contact on the ball when Hayes fell under his challenge when clear on goal. When deciding if this is a red card offence, the "he got a touch defence" is irrelevant. One can win the ball and still have committed a foul.
The Parkhead club are within their rights to appeal but Majstorovic has no defence to the charge of loitering without intent while in possession of a hooped jersey. His reaction to the Hayes situation was slow, both mentally and physically.
Foran believed, too, that Williams was unlucky to be awarded his first yellow card but the second came when the defender committed the cardinal error of simply not thinking. His foul on Georgios Samaras fell snugly into the category of inviting the referee to send him off.
The most insistent impression made by this match, though, was the sheer insistence of Celtic. In the 17-match winning run, eight have now been achieved by the margin of one goal. There have been 12 clean sheets. Hayes, Nick Ross and Claude Gnapka had chances on Saturday but Fraser Forster did not have a save of note to make.
This is the most persuasive evidence that Celtic have become a resilient unit. It was given further credence by performances on Saturday. James Forrest, who created the goal for Joe Ledley brilliantly, was not at his coruscating best, and Gary Hooper, who had only been intermittently threatening, was removed to accommodate the reshuffle following the dismissal of Majstorovic. The threat posed by Celtic was more limited than of late but there was a conviction about the team as a whole.
There have been sceptics about the ability of Scott Brown, with this observer among the most vociferous, but the Celtic captain is in excellent form, adding guile to his limitless energy. The full-back pairing of Adam Matthews and Charlie Mulgrew was also outstanding. The Welshman has pace and is brave and strong given his stature. Mulgrew is the best defender in the country when it comes to bringing the ball out.
With Ledley providing a goal and an understated but influential presence in midfield and Victor Wanyama adding versatility to his more obvious attributes, Celtic had enough in both technique and commitment to seize another three points.
Wanyama, who moved to central defence after Majstorovic was sent off, was relaxed later about the switch "It wasn't a problem for me," said the Kenyan. "When the message comes that I have to go to the defence, I just switch things in my mind. I think like a defender and then I get confidence."
However, Wanyama is in no doubt his best position is in midfield. It is not difficult to see why. In the first two minutes on Saturday, he executed a perfect defensive header, slid a wonderful pass through for the revitalised Samaras and then smacked a header just over the crossbar.
He was less conspicuous thereafter but he is crucial to Celtic in his ability to add goals and creativity to his sterling work in front of the central defenders. Wanyama was blunt about how he has quickly become a first-team starter. "If you work hard in football, then I believe that everything is possible. I have been working hard and now it is normal that I am getting my chances to play," he said.
He was on the mark, too, when assessing how 17 victories have been achieved. "We have a strong team and they were strong mentally," he said. "That is why we are always winning at the moment because we have a very good spirit. For every match, we are going into it with very good momentum."
Hibs are up next but Celtic have come a long way since October.