Graham Ruthven: Celtic celebrations at Kilmarnock shows title race is over

Was there ever really a title race in Scotland this season? Graham Ruthven isn’t sure, as he believes Celtic can’t be stopped now…

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Only small-time clubs celebrated in such an exuberant, over the top manner, they said.

When Rangers’ fans spilled on to the pitch after a late winner away to St Johnstone earlier this season, rival supporters, including more than a few of green and white persuasion, scoffed and mocked.

It was only a win over St Johnstone, they laughed. Did such an unremarkable result really warrant a pitch invasion? Now, though, it’s the turn of the Rangers support to mock and deride.

Many Celtic fans claimed they were above celebrating a goal against modest opposition with such euphoria, and yet close to one hundred of the club’s supporters spilled on to the playing surface on Sunday following Scott Brown’s late winner against Kilmarnock.

Hypocrisy?

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Of course, this whole debate has tedious whataboutery at its core. Football fans wildly celebrating a late goal, no matter who it comes against, is entirely natural and encapsulates the inherent drama of a sport that compels so many.

Brown’s stoppage-time winner at Rugby Park was a moment for Celtic’s support to revel in, just as Alfredo Morelos’ winner at McDiarmid Park two months previously was for Rangers’ fan base.

And yet there was more to analyse about Celtic’s reaction to Brown’s goal. It wasn’t just the away fans that lost themselves in the moment, but the players on the pitch too.

Their vigorous jubilation lasted beyond the full-time whistle too, with on loan PSG forward Timothy Weah releasing something verging on the animalistic.

This was the reaction of a team who know the title race in Scotland is now all but over.

Celtic’s 1-0 win over Kilmarnock put Brendan Rodgers’ side eight points clear at the top of the Scottish Premiership table, with Rangers stumbling to a goalless home draw to St Johnstone the day before.

This is a gulf that will prove difficult to be bridged between now and May. Even Steven Gerrard appeared to throw in the towel having seen his Rangers team toil to an insipid 0-0 draw on Saturday.

“Right now you can forget titles and closing gaps, the reality is perform like that in front of 50,000 and there’s your evidence,” he said, simmering with frustration. “You don’t need me to say this, that or the other. If you have a group of lads and they give you that across the board, that’s not what’s required at Rangers. You’re miles away from it.”

Not so long ago, it seemed that Rangers might well challenge Celtic. Their Old Firm derby win before the turn of the year put them level on points with their fiercest rivals, raising hopes of a genuine title race at the top of the Scottish Premiership. Since then, though, Rangers have fallen away, demonstrating a mental weakness, while Celtic, buoyed by January additions, have accelerated away from the chasing pack.

It would take an almighty collapse from this point for Celtic to surrender their position at the top of the table. That might not be totally out of the question given the Hoops’ inconsistent form over the first half of the season, but given what we have seen of Rangers of late it’s highly unlikely that they will be able to sustain a winning run to carry them all the way to the end of the campaign.

Rangers shouldn’t lose sight of the progress they have made under Gerrard.

They still have weaknesses and deficiencies, that is plain to see. Their recent form is cause for concern, with Gerrard openly admitting that his team’s mindset must be strengthened as much as the squad itself.

Some will question whether there was ever really a title race this season. Most expected Celtic, at some stage, to stretch their legs, and that’s exactly what they have done.

While Rangers have stood still, Celtic have broken into a sprint and with victory over Kilmarnock on Sunday they might just have disappeared over the horizon.

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