Celtic plan a New Year's revolution

AFTER securing a magnificent seven straight league wins to sign off for 2013, Celtic's New Year resolution will be to wrap up title No.3 under Neil Lennon as quickly as possible.

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Kris Commons celebrates his goal with team-mate Joe Ledley
Kris Commons celebrates his goal with team-mate Joe Ledley

The 1-0 victory over Caley Thistle in Inverness - courtesy of Kris Commons' third- minute strike - made it 18 Premiership games unbeaten, and also meant it a was full calendar year of scoring in every league game played.

Indeed, the last time Celtic failed to find the net on league business was exactly 12 months ago when they lost 1-0 to Hibs.

That proved to be a mere bump on the road to retaining the championship.

And, in all honesty, who can see them failing to motor to three-in-a-row a few months from now?

Even Ally McCoist is talking about the prospect of the legendary 10-in-a-row becoming reality for the men from across the city.

Does it make the SPFL any less attractive? Well, competition is the lifeblood of any sport, and there is scant evidence of it increasing for Celtic any time soon, though they did find the going tough in the Highlands.

The danger is that this inevitable outcome to the championship will make it less of a draw for spectators, and that the famous atmosphere surrounding Hoops games - which is even attracting the interest of Zlatan Ibrahimovic - will be diluted.

"He'd have to play well to get into our team," laughed Lennon when asked about the possibility of the 32-year-old Swedish hitman coming to Parkhead to end his playing career.

Commons would certainly be a hard man to shift on his recent contributions.

He has returned to the rich vein of scoring form which marked his arrival at Celtic in January, 2011.

By then, he had already scored 13 goals that season for Derby, plus his first for Scotland, and went on to hit a further 15 for the Hoops.

With half a campaign to go, the 30-year-old is on course for his best-ever tally.

Lennon said: "He's in wonderful form, and I thought his goal was brilliant. When you see Kris in those positions, you are disappointed when he doesn't score, he is that good at it.

"He's been absolutely huge for us for the last couple of years, and I think he's only going to get better."

Commons' latest goal came after a clever one-two with Georgios Samaras on the left edge of the Caley area and concluded with a clinical shot through keeper Dean Brill.

A clipped shot off the top off the crossbar and a good save from another drive confirmed Commons was not happy to settle for one.

But the failure of him or anyone else in a Celtic shirt adding to the scoreline is a reminder that not everything is going perfectly for the Hoops.

And, as far as Lennon is concerned, the sooner they get off on their mid-season break, the better.

Only the New Year's Day game against Partick Thistle and the trip to face St Mirren in Paisley next weekend stands between Celtic and the Turkish delight.

But while Lennon will show these two opponents the utmost respect, he viewed the trips to play St Johnstone and Inverness the biggest challenges his side would face pre-break.

Caley Thistle has always been something of a mental and physical test for Celtic, though their record up the A9 is improving.

The last time they lost on this ground, it cost them the league title in Lennon's first full season in charge.

That was May, 2011, and they have won five times in Inverness since then.

They simply now know how to approach the games.

Pressed high up the pitch in the opening quarter of the match, Caley Thistle were halted before they could get going.

The goal was the bonus at that stage.

Caley were so frustrated that the crowd were treated to the amazing sight of Ross Draper shoving ref Crawford Allan to the deck when the defender felt the official was impeding him getting out to block James Forrest as he prepared to shoot after a short corner.

With more solid defending from Virgil van Dijk, Efe Ambrose and Co, even when Caley did eventually get forward, there was nothing getting past an in-form Fraser Forster.

Lennon recognises that, with 32 games already this term, all of his players are having to dig deep into their reserves of stamina and focus.

He had warned them what to expect at Inverness, and on reflection, believes he got it right.

He said: "The pitch played a huge part in the performance because it was very heavy and lumpy. But we got off to a great start, and had decent control of the game.

"I thought we could have done better in the final third at times with our decision- making and execution. But that's six clean sheets in a row."

That's the foundation on which Celtic's current winning streak is built.

The days of hammering seven and five goals past opponents seems a long time ago. Now, it is one or two. But, with nothing going past Forster, that's enough.

Lennon would like more of a return for the chances they are creating, but recognises that, so long as they are scoring more than opponents, their relentless march towards another title remains on course and their unbeaten record intact.

He said: "At this stage of the season, sometimes you have to be a bit more physical to grind out results, and that is exactly what we are doing."

But Lennon warned - or promised: "We will play better, there is no question of that."

That's reassuring for their fans - and ominous for everyone else.

Football

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