Celtic haven’t beat Rangers to title yet insists Murdo MacLeod as he urges Hoops to ‘go and earn it’ like 1998

Murdo MacLeod has been in the same situation as Ange Postecoglou.

Back in 1998, he was assistant to Wim Jansen when Celtic had to recover and regroup from a disappointing Treble-wrecking 2-1 Scottish Cup semi-final defeat to Rangers to get their hands on a league title.

Jansen and MacLeod’s squad, led by Tom Boyd, did it back then. He believes Postecoglou and the group fronted by Callum McGregor will do it now.

But the former Parkhead hero has warned they are going to have to fight for the flag as it is not going to be handed to them on a plate.

Celtic hold a six-point lead and have five games left, starting against Ross County on Sunday, to get the job done.

MacLeod and Jansen’s team had six after their semi-final heartache and it was a grind for Henrik Larsson and team-mates to get over the line. Celtic lost the last Old Firm encounter of the season 2-0 at Ibrox after goals from Jonas Thern and Jorg Albertz sank them.

After Rangers squandered that success by losing next time out at Aberdeen, Celtic were held back again with dropped points at home to Hibernian after Alex McLeish’s side dug out a 0-0 draw.

Even when Walter Smith’s team flopped against Kilmarnock to leave their rivals knowing a victory at Dunfermline in the penultimate game would wrap it up, Craig Faulconbridge scored for the Fifers with just seven minutes remaining to ramp the tension up even more.

Larsson and Harald Brattbakk struck to beat St Johnstone on the final day and get Celtic hands on the trophy, ending Gers’ bid for 10-in-a-row.

But it was far from a smooth run to glory and MacLeod believes the relaxed approach of some opponents in the next month will mean his old club will have to dig deep to win it.

He said: “It’s going to be a tough run-in. Winning a title is never easy at any point.

“Celtic are going to have to go and get it. Go and earn it.

“The way Celtic are sitting at the moment, they are so comfortable with a big gap at the top of the table.

“But they will face five tough games because all of the teams who have made it into the top six are there due to the fact they have had great seasons in their own ways.

“Hearts have had a great season, Dundee United are doing so well, then you have Ross County. Look at their season compared to some of the teams who are down there in the bottom six who are seen as much bigger clubs. Motherwell as well and these teams will be relaxed going into these games. Reaching the top six is ​​the bonus for a few of them and they’ll go and enjoy the games.

“Celtic have their own target, so the matches will be good and they’ll be looking forward to them.

“But look at the last game in Dingwall. In recent years County have been down near the bottom scrapping for points here, there and everywhere at times.

“Yet this season they achieved greatly to get into the top six and will be looking for that same performance as the last time at home up there when it took Celtic until after 96 minutes to get their winning goal.

“The title won’t be handed out to Celtic and nor should it be because leagues have to be won by the team who goes out there and wins it.”

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Twenty-four years ago, the prize for adding to a League Cup triumph with the big one was stopping Rangers from making history with a 10th successive title.

This time around, it’s a place in the group stage of the Champions League.

Last weekend’s loss at the National Stadium was a sickening blow to the Hoops as their hopes of a Treble were ended.

But MacLeod admits the importance of the title race in 1998 meant there was no Hampden hangover and the rewards on offer then and now should mean it will be the same scenario this time around for Postecoglou’s players.

He said: “They will be gutted with last weekend, especially when it seemed they were firm favorites for Hampden going into the match.

“For us back then, there was nothing that lingered beyond the match. The game was finished. It was over. And once any game is over, you just have to move on. The big thing that year was stopping 10-in-a-row and we always went back to that. That’s what it was all about for us in 1998.

“The incentive is different this time but also very rewarding. It’s great to go straight into the Champions League.

“That is what all footballers want. To have the opportunity to play against the best.”

With their six-point lead and superior goal difference, the job, crucially, is in Celtic’s own hands.

They can control their own title destiny and, given the fact they trailed by seven at one point in December having completely revamped their squad, it’s been an impressive charge towards the brink of a cherished triumph.

MacLeod said: “To come from the position they were in at the start of the season, then being a number of points behind at one stage to canter away at the top of the table, it’s been a great run.

“You’d have to give a lot of credit to the manager for the way he managed to get his team playing.”


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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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