A few weeks either side of now and knowing what we know about Neil Lennon’s priorities this season – the Champions League followed by the Champions League and then the Champions League once again – it seems entirely plausible that Dundee United could have given Celtic a few problems in this rearranged SPL match at Parkhead.
Even by Lennon’s admission, the Bhoys have dropped silly points immediately before and after continental action. But after qualifying from for the knock-out stages alongside Barcelona at the expense of Benfica and Spartak Moscow, it is a month until Celtic face Juventus in the last 16 of Europe’s premier club competition and even if the excitement surrounding the tie is already palpable, Lennon has been able thus far to keep it out of the minds of the players as domestic duties take hold.
Once qualification was secured in early December, Celtic went on the sort of run that we have come to expect from them, winning seven of their next eight SPL games to go nine points clear at the summit, which is an insurmountable lead even at this stage.
They still look like they are in the groove to me and they are not worth opposing for a couple of factors.
Firstly, it is just a bit too soon for the Juventus match to be too much of a distraction (even if it is all the supporters are really concerned about), while the other thing to consider is what is happening at Dundee United, who are in danger of letting the season peter out if they are not careful.
The Tannadice outfit may have got a win over the weekend with a 3-2 success away to Kilmarnock at Rugby Park, but that was their first win in six matches and the situation regarding their manager Peter Houston is at best unsettling and at worst completely destabilising.
After being given permission to speak to Blackpool a few weeks back, Houston looked as though he was leaving United this month but after the move to Bloomfield Road fell through, it seemed like he was going to stay put.
He will, but only until the end of the season, as his contract runs out in May and he has refused to sign a new one on reduced terms.
That is his prerogative, of course, and given the job he has done in the main at Tannadice, which included a Scottish Cup win, he will no doubt have his suitors.
But it could be a difficult end to the campaign for Houston and Dundee United, as when the players know a manager is on his way out performances dip more often than not.
Houston has told his players to believe they can get a result when they go to Celtic Park, but there is nothing in their record – either of late or traditionally against the Bhoys – to suggest that is possible and getting value on a home win is the trick here.
Lennon’s side are 13/50 to pick up the points, with the draw at 9/2 and United at 7/1, and it has to be a home victory all the way.
Saturday’s win aside, Dundee United had previously lost to St Mirren and Hearts and taken just a point when they faced Aberdeen, St Johnstone and Inverness Caledonian Thistle, a run of results that has seen Houston’s side slip into the bottom half to seventh, four points from the top four.
They have conceded 15 goals in their last six games and having lost 2-1, 4-1 and 5-1 on their last three trips to Celtic, I see nothing but a home win here, even if Celtic haven’t been at their swashbuckling best at home, scoring just 18 goals in 11 SPL matches.
With that in mind, I’ll go on the 11/10 that Celtic win a match that sees under 3.5 goals. Games at Celtic are averaging just 2.27 goals per match, with eight of their games producing under 2.5 goals.
United’s away games are seeing an average of 2.82 goals per game and the 11/10 is a better way of getting value on a home win than the 13/50 shout.