Callum McGregor can feel the title tension growing around him.
But the Celtic skipper insists his players have to block out any anxiety coming from outside the camp and keep their heads fixed firmly on the mission.
McGregor’s men are in pole position entering the home straight in the Premiership race.
Three points ahead with nine games to go, Ange Postecoglou’s new-look side have the destination of the crown in their own hands. It’s an exciting prospect for the supporters but one that tests their nerves.
As Celtic failed to score at Hibs last Sunday, supporters’ stress levels rose. As Postecoglou’s side subsequently hunted for a breakthrough in Wednesday night’s clash with St Mirren, tension again filled the air.
But McGregor is trying to make sure it doesn’t filter through to the squad.
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At various stages against the Buddies, the captain was going around the group on the park instilling calm, telling colleagues to relax and keep doing the right things.
McGregor’s approach paid off with a 2-0 win that kept their cushion at the top intact and he’ll keep delivering the message as the finishing line gets closer.
He said: “We understand the frustration sometimes when it’s 0-0 and it’s a little bit edgy.
“That’s the pressure you get playing at a big club.
“You have to take that on your shoulders and still be able to perform, still do the right thing, still do what the manager is asking you to do.
“There are some new players, some young players, but they’re handling it well. It’s a difficult prospect sometimes. The boys are trying to keep implementing what the manager is asking.
“It’s about the experienced boys just calming them down at the right times and keeping them on the right path.
“We are always trying to do the right thing. People will misplace passes and give the ball away, that’s part of football. You have to accept it’s part of the game.
“As long as people are trying to do the right thing and trying to do what the manager is asking them to do within that structure, you just keep everybody calm. We are trying to score goals but we always try to do the right thing.
“We are always trying to win the game. It’s a learning curve for the players. But everyone has got to stay calm and focused.”
McGregor and Celtic are having to come up with new solutions as they go along.
Postecoglou’s team have ripped sides apart this season with some explosive counter-attacking to go with their possession-based build-up and wary rivals bosses are now locking more and more doors.
McGregor knows it’s a building trend.
“We have to learn to play against different systems and different set-ups,” he said.
“Teams have been coming and making it difficult for us to break them down, so it’s about us then trying to find another solution.
“Recently, there have been more and more teams coming and sitting in with a low block, giving us that problem.
“That’s up to us as players – and the coaching staff and manager – to come up with a solution to get around that. Everyone is learning and it’s important we keep striving to do that.
“St Mirren played a low block a bit, so it’s always difficult to break that down regardless of how good a team you are.
“You need that little bit of luck to go for you as well.
“We started the first half really well and created some good situations. But we didn’t get the goal.
“At half-time we spoke about trying to bring that energy again. We started the second half really well and got our reward. It was good.
“We try to play a type of football that requires patience sometimes as well.
“When you get teams that come and sit low, it is hard to break down.
“You have to keep moving the ball and keep shifting it side to side to try to find that opening to get you a goal. It can come from a set-
play, it can come from a mistake or whatever. You’ve just got to be ready to take the chance.
“That’s our game. We want to pin teams in and make it hard for them to defend until we get that opening. But it does require patience.
“We try to stay away from being outcome focused rather than performance.
“We know if we perform at a good level, there is a pretty good chance you will win the game.
“That’s what the manager is asking you to do – stay away from that side of things, just focus on your performance, focus on your role in the team and, if you do it well, hopefully everything comes together and you get the three points de todas formas.
“That’s the mentality within the group. We just want to keep performing, keep getting better.
“Football’s about winning but trying to focus on performances is what will get us the success.”
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.