John Hartson urges Celtic to ‘ignore the noise’ for title run in as he dismisses a Helicopter Sunday repeat

Former Celtic striker John Hartson has urged his old side to ignore the outside noise and listen only to the rallying calls of Callum McGregor to hold their nerve and clinch the title.

The former Parkhead hero says there is no time for disappointment to linger within the Hoops ranks with the league flag in their grasp.

Celtic have five games to go in the Premiership and currently hold a six-point lead with the additional assistance of a vastly superior goal difference to nearest challengers Rangers.

Victory at Ross County on Sunday afternoon could, effectively, move Ange Postecoglou’s team to within a solitary win of glory and Hartson says that he has to now be the focus.

The Welshman understands doubters will emerge in the wake of the Scottish Cup semi-final loss to the Ibrox side last weekend.

Postecoglou’s squad is also packed with players who have yet to complete the course in terms of winning a title in their careers.

But Hartson says serial winners such as McGregor will have the right messages to pass around the group in the coming days.

The captain got to work immediately after the extra-time loss to Rangers when he gathered the troops together before they even left the pitch at Hampden to start galvanizing the group ahead of their final effort.

McGregor then reiterated the desire not to let the good work of the past few months in the flag battle go to waste when he spoke publicly afterwards.

And Hartson believes the private words of the Postecoglou’s on-field leader as well as the boss will be valuable ones when it comes to Dingwall and getting over the finishing line.

Hartson said: “Guys like Callum who have been over the course before and know what it is all about are important because you always know that there is a little noise if you lose a game to Rangers.

“Celtic just need to keep their focus now and do what they have been doing for most of the season.

“I have so much admiration for Callum and how he has taken the armband on.

“He is a fantastic professional and a great leader and this week I am sure that he will be at Lennoxtown and rallying the lads for the game at the weekend.

“Sunday has gone now and it is all about pushing for the title now.”

Although Sunday was a setback, Hartson prefers to look at the bigger picture and the position that the team has worked into from a period of squad turmoil and transition at the beginning of the campaign.

Hampden defeat in 120 minutes was a first domestic loss for Celtic in 34 games after a searing run from September which has put them in pole position to reclaim the title.

With a Premier Sports Cup already in the bag, it’s been a superb effort from Postecoglou and his players.

Hartson said: “I still think it has been a magnificent season when you think of what Ange took over when he first came in.

“To be six points clear with five games to go, and a goal difference of 19, is a strong position to be in.

“Celtic need to make sure they don’t get too affected by Sunday’s result.

“They have already won the League Cup and they are in a very strong position to go and wrap up the title. And, if they go and win the double, then I think that Ange would massive credit.”

Even in defeat at the National Stadium, Hartson saw little reason for recourse and believes one or two crucial moments in the match decided the outcome against his old club.

Greg Taylor’s goal just after the hour had Postecoglou’s team on course for a third successive victory over their biggest rivals.

But Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s men hit back late in the contest after Cameron Carter-Vickers had missed a golden opportunity to repeat his scoring heroics of Ibrox a fortnight previously and finish the game by making it 2-0 with 20 minutes to go.

Hartson said: “Yes there is disappointment because there was a lot of Treble talk. Over the piece on Sunday I thought the game could really have gone either way.

“Rangers made it happen in the second half of extra-time, but if Carter-Vickers had kept his shot on target the game would have been over. Rangers found that little bit of energy and I think there were a few calls that went in their favour, too, over the course of the game.

“I won’t sound bitter and say that Celtic deserved it and Rangers didn’t. I thought Rangers edged it and I think Celtic can play an awful lot better.

“But I do think that the game hinged on a couple of big decisions and a few big moments. As I said, if Carter-Vickers scores that chance, it is game over.”

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Naturally, tension will play a part in the remaining matches with Celtic eager to complete their good work and get the job done. Titles have swung late in the past and Hartson was part of Martin O’Neill’s squad who lost out in the final minutes of the campaign in 2005 when succumbed to Motherwell at Fir Park and Rangers’ win against Hibs saw Alex McLeish’s men pinch it at the conclusion.

Hartson doesn’t see the same thing happening this time around and, given the talent in the ranks, says it is just about keeping their nerve.

I explained: “Absolutely. There is one more game against Rangers to come at Celtic Park and now you are playing the teams in the top six so you know it is going to be competitive and there are no easy games.

“But they do have a good cushion. That six points is realistically seven with the goal difference and I can’t see them letting it slip.

“We made the crucial mistake in 2005 when we lost to Motherwell and Rangers won it but I just cannot see that happening. I think Celtic are a different animal these days under Ange.”

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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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