Celtic skipper Scott Brown has identified his team’s 2-1 home defeat to arch-rivals Rangers as the turning point in their season and the trigger for their charge towards a ninth successive Scottish Premiership title.
Rangers closed the gap to just two points with victory at Parkhead on December 29 – the final match before the winter break – with Nikola Katic’s second half header sealing victory for Steven Gerrard’s men.
But after the resumption, the Gers struggled for form, while Celtic claimed nine wins in 10 games to move 13 points clear before the season was put on hold due to the coronavirus outbreak.
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Brown believes the defeat, coupled with Celtic’s mid-season trip to Dubai, was the spur behind their surge.
“It was a little mini pre-season,” Brown told Sky Sports‘ The Football Show. “The manager sat us down, we spoke about our goals and what we wanted to do, and from there the lads bounced back. Sometimes in football, you need a defeat that to remind yourself you are in a title challenge.
“We knew it would be hard but we came back from the break and won every match except one against Livingston [a 2-2 draw]. That shows how strong mentally we are as well as physically.”
Brown also paid a special tribute to boss Neil Lennon who returned for a second spell in charge in February 2019.
“The manager has been phenomenal. He puts a lot of faith in the players and has a great backroom staff. I think that’s what has made us blossom in the second half of the season and it is his winning mentality as well which he drives into the lads. That’s what he brings.”
Like so many across the globe, Brown is currently at home and observing social distancing while waiting for news of when football will resume.
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But while he harbours hopes of being able to see the season out, the 34-year-old is mindful that fulfilling that ambition may be beyond the realms of possibility.
He said: “For us, it’s been a fantastic season. We are 13 points clear with eight games to go. We’re in a privileged position. It’s been a long, hard season. We’ve won a cup already and in the semi-final of another cup, so we’re going to just have to wait and see.
“[We are] trying to stay as fit as possible and doing the programmes that the club has been sending us and trying to stay as safe as possible like everyone else. It’s a terrible situation we’re in, but we’re all trying to stay as positive as we can.
“Obviously our preference is to play the games because we want finish the season. Everybody wants to play. it’s our job and what we love to do.
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