Mature Brown has shoulder to wheel as bandwagon rolls for Celtic

KRIS COMMONS is grabbing the goals and the Player of the Year votes.

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Scott Brown, now 28, is pointing the way forward for Charlie Mulgrew and Co as Celtic close in on their third title in a row
Scott Brown, now 28, is pointing the way forward for Charlie Mulgrew and Co as Celtic close in on their third title in a row

Virgil van Dijk is hogging the headlines with his performances and future plans.

Fraser Forster has snatched records for clean sheets, and is well on his way to setting even more.

But Scott Brown is the heartbeat of the Celtic side which is within three games of making it three-in-a-row.

And, while the combative midfielder has held the trophy aloft at the end of the last two seasons, this time he can raise it into the air knowing he has made his biggest contribution yet to adding it to the club's history of success.

Of course, he is still not, nor ever will be, everyone's idea of a top class player. The technique will never match that of Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi.

But there is enough to make the drive, energy and will-to-win - which are his trademarks - effective in the extreme.

His managers at club and national level certainly believe so. Which is why Neil Lennon and Gordon Strachan wax lyrical when asked to discuss how important Brown is to their teams.

Likewise, every team-mate enthuses about the contribution Brown makes to the side, and the example he sets, no matter if it is a bounce game or a Champions League tie.

At 28, he has grown into his skin. And, having finally rid himself of the physical issues which prevented him from finding real consistency in the previous campaigns, Brown is now looking forward to enjoying the most fruitful years of his career.

Indeed, the only time you might get an inkling he feels slightly uncomfortable is when asked to talk about himself and his current form.

Even then, his pawky sense of humour and penchant for self-deprecation is used as a shield against awkwardness.

Just like on the park, he has learned how to steer clear of trouble - well, most of the time - and shows a maturity which makes those who questioned the wisdom of making him captain of Celtic then Scotland disappear behind the sea of people queuing up to sing his praises.

A good example is shown when the topic of Aiden McGeady's assertion that Celtic players are missing having Rangers in the league is raised.

The former Celt - now watching from a distance at Goodison - reckons the lack of competition is hurting those who currently play in the Hoops.

But Brown is now too streetwise to get suckered into a public debate on that potentially-volatile subject.

"Yes, Aiden is saying that. It looks like we are, eh?," is his measured response when asked to comment on his former team-mate's opinion.

It's as neat a sidestep as you are ever likely to see from Brown on the pitch.

But the truth is that, like everyone else at the club, the blinkers are very much on and all that's in their line of sight is the finishing line in the title race they have led virtually from the moment the tapes went up.

They are not looking over their shoulder to see who is in the chasing pack.

"The main thing for us is to go on and win the league, every season possible," said Brown, revealing that three-in-a-row is not the sum of their ambitions.

If they can go on and make it four consecutive titles, it will be only the fourth time in the club's 126-year history.

They collected six-in-a-row between 1904-05 and 1909-10, four-in-a-row between 1913-14 and 1916-17, and, most famously, nine-in-a-row from 1965-66 until 1973-74.

Brown was involved when Gordon Strachan steered the club to three-in-a-row between 2005-06 and 2007-08, and that's been the best since the Jock Stein era.

So he is a serial champion, and happy to shoulder the responsibility that comes with being expected to win the title every time you kick off a campaign.

"That's what we are asked to do, and that's what we are doing," he insisted. "It's the main thing driving us just now."

Celtic are occupying the fast lane in this year's title surge, and are anticipated to retain the trophy when they play Ross County at Celtic Park a week on Saturday.

Brown does not want any more slip-ups en route, the pain of losing their unbeaten league record at Aberdeen last month still raw.

Kilmarnock on Friday night reminded them no one is simply going to move over to allow them a free run to the finishing line.

But it was yet another excellent example of how this group of players have grown together, both in terms of effectiveness and belief.

Brown reflected: "In the first half at Kilmarnock, we were in control of the game. We just didn't penetrate as well as we possibly could.

"In the second half, we stepped it up the extra 10% that was required. Everyone in the dressing room at half- time knew we could do that, and we went out and did it."

There was a calmness as Lennon got his point across at the break.

But when the players run out again, it can be down to the on-field lieutenant to ensure instructions are acted upon.

While taking his responsibilities very seriously, captain Brown does not believe he stands alone in this duty.

"All the lads in the team do it (reiterating the manager's instructions) individually as well," he explained.

"That's good because we are all trying to spur one another on, saying, 'You're doing well, now give us that little bit extra,' things like that. Our dressing room is a great place to be just now, and we want to continue to make it that."

Their own dressing room at Celtic Park was certainly a great place to be at the weekend, but it was being used for Aberdeen's League Cup- winning party after the Dons had triumphed over Inverness Caley Thistle.

Brown admits it does hurt to watch big cup occasions taking place without them.

"It's not just about the championship, though retaining that title is the priority," he explained. "But this season it was not to be that we added a cup.

"We have gone out of both cups, and only lost once in the league. So that's just three defeats in total in the domestic competitions. It's extraordinary how well we have done."

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