CELTIC are transforming themselves from a football club into party planners.
In the hierarchy of events they intend to celebrate the possible capture of all three major domestic trophies will be accompanied by Rangers dying. That was the message coming loud and clear from the stands last night, at least, as they continued a comfortable march towards their first title since 2008.
This is a league "race" resembling one of those 100metre sprints where Usain Bolt starts waving to the crowd long before the tape. There is no doubt or tension about it, only the novelty of speculating on when and where Celtic will actually cross the line. After this win – when poor finishing restricted their endless possession to just a couple of goals – there is still the prospect of them winning it at Ibrox on March 25, if Rangers spill more points beforehand.
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Charlie Mulgrew and James Forrest scored to put Dunfermline away. The wins roll on: 16 on the trot in the league and 19 in all domestic games. They are 20 points clear in the table and the turnaround since November 5, including Rangers' 10-point deduction, stands at 35. It's like an earthquake hit Glasgow's big clubs and only wiped away one of them. The match began with "Glasgow Celtic champions" bellowing from the stands. The season has another three months to run.
Several qualities have taken Celtic to within touching distance of the league title – one of them being solvency -–and above all fixture 28 out of 38 was a prolonged examination of their patience. More than half an hour of almost uninterrupted possession and pressure passed unrewarded before, with all the inevitability of the tide washing down a sandcastle, Dunfermline yielded. Celtic had monopolised the ball, playing back and forth in front of the Dunfermline midfield and defence without finding a way through. Cha Du-Ri and Emilio Izaguirre bombed on so often they almost became strangers to the rest of their own back four. Joe Ledley, Ki Sung-Yueng Scott Brown and Kris Commons moved it from one side to another and back again, always trying to release a killer pass for Anthony Stokes or Gary Hooper.
Dunfermline's success, such as it was, could be measured by the fact the score looked respectable. It could have been a barrowload. Given how awful the Fifers have been in defence for much of the season that was minor achievement worthy of acknowledgement, and in Kevin Rutkiewicz and Alex Keddie they had a couple of centre-halves who delivered solid and diligent performances. But the finishing from Stokes, Hooper, Commons and the rest was pretty woeful and goalkeeper Chris Smith was terrific for once. Time and again he flashed up a hand to reach a shot, or flung himself to make a block. It was a shame that the opening goal left fingers pointing at him.
Goalkeeping errors have plagued Dunfermline recently. Smith's positioning at Celtic's opener wouldn't even merit a place among the top five worst of them, but he still ought to have done more as Mulgrew's shot came at him. Celtic were moving the ball around in midfield for the umpteenth time when the defender suddenly released a superb left-foot shot high and central from 30 yards, which flashed into the net past Smith. It was a harsh disfigurement of his night given how well he played otherwise, especially the reaction save to push a Scott Brown shot over the bar. The goal was a nice way for Mulgrew to mark his Scotland call-up and it took his total to the season to five, not bad for a defender.
Liam Buchanan may as well have been stranded on the moon, for all the company or involvement he had as Dunfermline's single striker. He wasn't even involved in their best chance five minutes from half-time when Joe Cardle's corner found Keddie at the back post. Having connected with so many headers in his own box he did so again in Celtic's, only to direct a hopeless effort straight at Fraser Forster. Buchanan did get a sniff soon after the break but put a header wide. Ryan Thomson had a subsequent effort which Izaguirre hoofed away from the Celtic line.
Celtic's finishing was absurdly poor, truth be told. Neither Stokes nor Hooper impressed and, although Commons was often involved, especially when he moved into the hole behind the front two, he was another who looked as though he couldn't hit a barn door. Ki fired a long pass deep towards the corner flag and Izaguirre did well to reach it and cross for Hooper. His flick gave Stokes a terrific chance but his finish was past the post. Then Smith saved from Ledley and Hooper swung a leg at the rebound but ballooned it over. There were mild groans, but no more.
The second came 15 minutes from time, Forrest stabbing Hooper's low cross over the line at the back post. The frequency of wasted chances bordered on the comical. Parkhead didn't care. If ever there was a time when the fans can afford to be forgiving, this is it. At this rate the only thing they have to worry about is sore cheeks from all the grinning.