FOR many years, Celtic have barely put a foot wrong either on or off the pitch. This season though, that veneer of infallibility has fallen away on both counts.

At the outset, despite the absence of fans to witness it in the flesh, this was supposed to be a campaign to live long in the memory. A season in which Celtic made history. Instead, it looks like it will be remembered - from a Celtic point of view, at least - for all the wrong reasons.

There have been expensive mistakes in the transfer market, with the likes of £4.5m goalkeeper Vasilis Barkas and £5m striker Albian Ajeti so far looking some way short of the required standard.

David Turnbull, the £3m capture from Motherwell, has however been a success. The trouble is, it took until December and a calamitous run of results before he was used regularly, when his introduction alongside Ismaila Soro turned the tide on Celtic’s fortunes.

With protests subsiding and goodwill slowly building back up of late though, Celtic travelled to Ibrox last week on something of a high. Unfortunately, while the 1-0 defeat may not have halted that entirely given the impressive nature of the performance and the luckless nature of the result, the trip to Dubai which followed appears to have exhausted what little patience the Celtic supporters had left with the Parkhead hierarchy.

With many supporters already exasperated by their team exiting the Champions League, Europa League and even the Betfred Cup to Ross County in humiliating fashion, not to mention falling so far off the blistering pace set by Rangers in the Premiership, the Celtic board angered many further by standing by the man who oversaw it all.

Their decision to back Neil Lennon, laudable as it was for its loyalty, now has to be followed up by a serious run at Rangers in the second half of the campaign should they not forever go down in the club’s history as the men who blew ‘the Ten’.

Indeed, they now arguably need such a run more than ever after sanctioning the trip to Dubai, which has attracted the ire of fans and politicians alike for its timing.

Celtic have argued that the pre-season training camp is one that they undertake every season, while acknowledging the rather glaring quirk this season of a deadly pandemic. But the timing of the trip as the rest of the country faces a national lockdown appears crass to say the very least.

From a PR perspective, the players jetting off to the sunshine immediately after an Old Firm defeat which left them 19 points behind in the table looks bad enough, and that’s without factoring in the pictures and videos which soon appeared on social media apparently showing Neil Lennon and captain Scott Brown sharing a pint or two by the poolside.

However, when you factor in the strictures which are now being endured by the vast majority back home, it is little wonder that heckles have been raised among fans who have parted with hundreds or indeed thousands of pounds for the privilege of watching their team stumble through the campaign on a stream from their sofas.

The accompanying political stooshie the trip has thrown up has also been something that Celtic scarcely needed when the entire focus of the club should be on salvaging what little chance they still have of claiming a now unlikely 10th league title in succession.

Instead, manager Lennon and the likes of Callum McGregor have been forced to come out and defend the training camp, in Lennon’s case to relay the club line about undertaking the trip to the UAE under advice from the Scottish Government.

Celtic contend that they haven’t broken any rules, even if most would concede they have gone against the spirit of them, while the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has herself countered that in the fast-changing world of a pandemic, advice can no longer be considered relevant two months down the line from when it was offered.

Ms Sturgeon went further, raising questions of whether the more stringent protocols that footballers have to follow to ensure the continuation of elite sport in a country that has otherwise ground to a virtual halt would be adhered to in such a setting.

Indeed, it seems that Celtic’s apparent breaches of the guidance from the Joint Response Group on hotel use are now being cited by Kilmarnock as they appeal their own punishments for breaking Covid-19 protocols.

Lennon and McGregor may argue that the trip is essential in terms of getting some much-needed warm weather training into the Celtic players’ legs to equip them for the battle ahead in the second half of the season. Their interpretation of the word ‘essential’ is likely to differ greatly to that of the government.

Regardless, the bottom line is that the whole storm is another distraction that Celtic could do well without, and one which has likely cost them what remaining goodwill there is from many of their supporters.

The only way to win that back will be to return from Dubai with all guns blazing as they have in previous seasons, and somehow wrest the title back from the outstretched grasp of their rivals.

If they return instead with a positive Coronavirus test or two, then it would put the tin lid on a season that promised so much for Celtic, but has to date only delivered a lack of direction both on the field and off of it.