Celtic are still in with a shout

WHETHER you loved them or loathed them, one thing about The Green Brigade was undeniable.

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Teemu Pukki scored for the first time in 17 games to deliver Celtic victory over Hibs
Teemu Pukki scored for the first time in 17 games to deliver Celtic victory over Hibs

When they behaved and focused on backing the team on the park, they improved the atmosphere at Celtic Park enormously.

The former occupants of Section 111 increased the decibel levels and enhanced the overall spectacle on match days.

It was not difficult, then, to understand the reluctance of some at Celtic to disband the controversial group despite its misdemeanours.

A curse of many modern all-seater football stadiums -those in the English top flight especially - is a definite lack of soul.

Many who have attended a Barclays Premier League match can attest to this bizarre phenomenon. The quality of football on show is often fabulous. But often the spectator is left asking: "How can so many people make so little noise?" The Emirates Stadium, home of league leaders Arsenal, is not known by rival fans as "The Library" for no reason.

So, dispersing those who were previously billeted in the singing section to other areas of Parkhead could have dire repercussions. It could potentially mean an end to the rumble of what manager Neil Lennon once memorably referred to as "the thunder". Yet, if the SPFL Premiership game against Hibs at the weekend is anything to go by Celtic have nothing to worry about.

It was, without doubt, not the best fixture in which to gauge what life will be like without The Green Brigade.

The weather was just horrendous. The players had to battle against heavy rain and high winds from kick-off to the final whistle.

The elements kept many season ticket holders away and dampened the enthusiasm of those who did turn up.

On top of that, it was the second-last Saturday before Christmas and the attendance will have been reduced as a result.

But still the green-and-white-clad hordes turned up in their tens of thousands and got firmly and vocally behind their team as they won 1-0.

Yes, those in attendance did not partake in a mass "Huddle". Nor was there a rendition of "Come On You Boys in Green". And, at times, the defiant pocket of visiting Hibs fans in the corner of the ground drowned out their counterparts.

But as Celtic stretched their unbeaten run in the league to 15 games courtesy of a Teemu Pukki strike in the first half the supporters made themselves heard.

Despite the draconian punishment meted out to The Green Brigade in the wake of the £42,000 fine dished out to Celtic by Uefa, the club will survive.

Certainly, Lennon was enormously grateful of the hearty backing his charges received on what was a demanding afternoon for them, for a multitude of reasons.

"I think parts of the ground really had a go at it," he said. "They kept the team going at times in really difficult conditions. I would like to thank them for coming out and getting behind the team and I am glad that we won it for them."

Of course, the display of the team on the pitch was, as always, of far greater importance than the conduct of their followers in the stands. Celtic responded well to their record European defeat - a 6-1 drubbing - at the hands of Barcelona in the Nou Camp three days earlier.

It does not look like there will be any reduction in application in the months ahead now there are only domestic honours to challenge for.

Nir Biton, who partnered captain Scott Brown in central midfield, once again suggested he has a bright future ahead of him at the East End club.

Emilio Izaguirre - who missed the Champions League outing in Spain on Wednesday night - is enjoying his best spell of form in some time at left-back.

Pukki, a £3million summer signing from German club Schalke 04, finally getting on the scoresheet for the first time in 17 games also augurs well for the future.

The Finn has only shown glimpses of his ability since arriving in Scotland in the summer; his close-range strike against Hibs was just his third in this country.

But Lennon said: "Who knows? He might kick on now and get a run of goals. We are hoping that eventually he can emulate what Gary Hooper did here.

"I don't think he has been fazed by coming to the club. He is naturally a quiet boy and it is hard to change players' personalities. But you can see him coming out of his shell more and more now."

Young MacKenzie Beswick, the 2000th child to be taken to a Celtic game for free by Glasgow-based charity The Kano Foundation, will have enjoyed seeing Pukki and his team-mates in action.

The narrow victory maintained both the Hoops' unbeaten run in the league and seven-point lead over nearest rivals Inverness Caledonian Thistle at the top of the table. That was definitely something to shout about.


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