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Ange Postecoglou has turned Celtic hope into title joy and it all comes down to 4 key turning points - Chris Sutton

By Chris Sutton

On the pages of Record Sport last July, I said this.: “ Ange Postecoglou cannot be expected to win the title this season.

“That’s not to say it can’t, or won’t, happen. But people have to be realistic and understand the sheer size of the job he’s got on his hands.

Celtic ’s campaign last term was embarrassing. There’s no other word for it. Everyone at the club hopes Postecoglou can magically turn it all around in the space of months and lead the club back to the title.

“But it has to be a feeling of hope. And not expectation. Because that just wouldn’t be fair.”

That’s all it was. Hope.

There was nothing else as the rebuild began. It was a hefty one but the signs were there with some sharp early recruitment.

Liel Abada scored on his debut. Kyogo Furuhashi hit the ground running. Josip Juranovic and Joe Hart were recruited.

Rangers didn’t start well. Europa League group stage qualification was secured by Celtic and some of the early football was exciting.

As they prepared to head for Ibrox for the first Old Firm game of the season back in August level on points after four games, the mood was lifted and I said: “Postecoglou has a serious chance of turning Rangers over.

“And if his bosses in the boardroom get things right over a vital next 72 hours, he might just have an opportunity to do the improbable and stay above them for an entire season and win back the title.

“Postecoglou has got Celtic moving back in the right direction. That, in itself, is an achievement given the shambles he inherited 10 weeks ago when he arrived.

“Postecoglou’s caught the imagination of the supporters with his attacking brand of football and it looks capable of wiping teams away on any given day in the Premiership, Rangers included.”

Celtic ended up losing that day – but it marked a turning point. Odsonne Edouard and Ryan Christie left within 48 hours and Postecoglou defined the season by getting hold of Jota, Giorgos Giakoumakis and Cameron Carter-Vickers.

It couldn’t happen immediately. Four points were shipped to Livingston and Dundee United before September was over but you could sense something was happening when Jota hit his late winner against Aberdeen at Pittodrie. Postecoglou’s team really started to fire from there. They built wins and momentum.

By December, they headed to the Premier Sports Cup Final against Hibs and I said: “Postecoglou will make a major statement if he grabs his first Celtic silverware.

“And, if he grabs hold of the Premier Sports Cup, it might just catapult his team onto adding the biggest domestic prize of the lot in May.

“To get the first domestic trophy in the bag just six months after facing that scenario would be quite an effort.

“At the same time, the injection of additional confidence and belief it would drive through the squad would be immeasurable.

“I can recall it happened with Wim Jansen in 1997/98. Celtic were behind Rangers in the league and coming together as a new team when they defeated Dundee United to win the Coca-Cola Cup before Christmas in that season.

(PA)

“It was a shot in the arm. It carried them forward and, in the end, it led to Jansen’s men actually going on and winning the title.

“When I was at Celtic, there were similar feelings around the group in my first year. This is a golden opportunity for the Aussie to get the very first he’s contested in Scotland. If he gets it in the bag, it’ll say plenty about his talents and it may well also lead to even bigger and better things for the rest of his term.”

It was secured, yet still plenty of title work to do. Six points adrift heading into the winter break, January was key.

On New Year’s day, I said: “Postecoglou’s first batch of signings have given them a chance of an unlikely title win. If the next lot are as good, they might just be able to pull it off.”

The Aussie went out and captured Daizen Maeda, Reo Hatate and Matt O’Riley to boost the ranks and the momentum just kept building.

As Rangers stuttered, Celtic were all over them. Gap cut to four, then to two, then the Ibrox side wiped aside in February to give Postecoglou’s team a one-point lead they never relinquished. The performance was brilliant and so was the response.

I said afterwards: “Postecoglou has shown himself to be spot-on with his tactics.

“But what is just as impressive about the Celtic manager are his talks. It’s those straight-to-the-point assessments which offer genuine belief that his team might just do the incredible and go on to win the Premiership title.

“The stadium was absolutely rocking when his team put an end to their run over two years without a win against Rangers in stunning style.

“But he was barely off the park and the really impressive bit began. Straight away, bringing everyone connected with Celtic right back to the ground.

“He said before the game nothing is decided in February and that wasn’t going to change in the wake of the win.

“It was a perfect pitch. The mantra was simple, the hard work is nowhere near done. I noticed Callum McGregor making sure no-one was going overboard with celebrations. He was driving home the point that one win isn’t enough.

“Remember what happened when Steven Gerrard and his players were bouncing around like the title was won after winning one game at Celtic Park?

“McGregor immediately called it a platform and that is exactly the point. That’s all it is. A platform. Postecoglou can’t be any clearer. If they act on his words and warnings, Celtic might just pull off this incredible title triumph.”

And so they did. No-one could have expected it. No-one could have demanded it. But at Celtic there is always hope. Postecoglou and his players have turned the hope into joy.

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