The Season Book Years – 2008/09
Continuing the season book years series, remember that the one rule I set myself here was that I could only pick a game that was on the season book that I actually went to. As such, they’re all home league games. I might mention other games from that season to put it into the context of the season, but the main focus will be on that one home league game. So, with that in mind…
Celtic 0-0 Heart of Midlothian, 24th May 2009.
While the quest for three in a row was ultimately successful, four in a row proved to be a bridge too far. But while three in a row had only come about in the last month, four in a row had looked a lot more likely earlier in the season.
At the end of December, Celtic had gone to Ibrox and won 1-0 thanks to a terrific Scott McDonald strike. That goal had sent Celtic seven points clear of Rangers and made us odds on favourite to win that fourth title. But it had been downhill from there.
One thing that seemed to be flagged up was Celtic’s inability to strengthen in the January transfer window. In particular, Steven Fletcher of Hibernian had been strongly linked with a transfer to Celtic, but the Hibs valuation for the striker wouldn’t be met by Celtic. So in the end, Celtic only brought in Willo Flood just 24 hours after the Dundee United midfielder had missed a vital penalty against Celtic in an epic League Cup semi final shootout.
Fast forward to May though, and Celtic found themselves lacking goals. Badly.
The League Cup final against Rangers that year had gone Celtic’s way, but not until after a goalless 90 minutes and even then the goals had come from defender Darren O’Dea and midfielder Aiden McGeady. Sadly this was something of an indicator of what was to come.
Well, that and the double header against St Mirren where Celtic won the league game 7-0 but lost the cup game 1-0. Some games Celtic were great, others Celtic were badly misfiring.
The penultimate game of the season saw Celtic travel through to Edinburgh to face Hibernian, but a 0-0 draw had all but handed Rangers the title. Now, back at Celtic Park, Celtic faced Hearts in a game where we not only had to win but also hope that Rangers slipped up.
The sad truth is, Celtic created more than enough chances in the game to win it, but we just never took them. A combination of Marian Kello in the Hearts goal having a good game and Celtic strikers like Scott McDonald missing great chances meant we never really looked like we’d score any goal that day. And this was against a Hearts team who were already confirmed their third place finish that season. They had nothing to play for, but still did more than enough to stop us.
As it was, Rangers won 3-0 away to Dundee United anyway so nothing that Celtic could have done against Hearts would have made a difference. But the lack of goals in the game was a massive indicator of where Celtic had gone wrong across the latter half of the season.
Indeed, Rangers ultimately took the title by just four points. Celtic’s goal difference was only two less than Rangers and having scored 80 to their 77 it meant that even a single goal win over both Hibs and Hearts in those final two matches would have been enough to clinch that fourth league title in a row on goals scored.
Questions will forever be asked about whether or not the signing of Steven Fletcher would have made the vital difference. The fact that Fletcher eventually went south to play in the Premiership suggests he was highly rated, although another fact that Fletcher went a full six years without scoring for Scotland – only finally breaking that duck against lowly Gibraltar – may suggest otherwise. Yes, he had a public falling out with Craig Levein when he had been Scotland manager, but he had failed to score for his country either side of that and his record in England has been patchy and inconsistent at best. Almost sounds like a carbon copy of Celtic’s 2008/09 season.
The sad fact of this season is a simple one. Rangers were champions and we’ll never know if a new striker in January would have changed that.