'Celtic flourished when the title pressure was on'

Charlie Mulgrew column graphic

It would have been easy for Celtic’s season to turn into a hard luck story.

Injuries to key players and signings struggling to make a notable impact could have been wheeled out as excuses had the title slipped from their grasp.

But when the pressure was really on, Brendan Rodgers’ side stepped up in big moments. None moreso than in Old Firm games.

The derby results have been massive, with Celtic going unbeaten and taking 10 points from 12. Had a win or two gone in Rangers’ favour, the whole look of the league changes.

Some people may say Rangers threw the title away with costly slip-ups against Ross County and Dundee last month, but Celtic have proved they are the best team in Scotland.

Their third title on the bounce has been far from smooth sailing. This could have been the year where Rangers, revived by changing manager at the right time, went on it win it.

But Celtic, having been seven points clear then lost the lead, showed real resilience over the closing months. They have capitalised on Rangers’ splutters and charged to the finishing line.

Speaking from experience, it’s real pressure when chasing down a title and you’re living in a fishbowl in terms of everything you’re doing is judged and one slip-up could be disastrous.

Rodgers looks like he relishes the pressure. There were some real sticky spells in the season – when he and his team were doubted and criticised - and he stood strong. That’s what a true leader does and the players have been inspired by that. Manager and team stuck together and got there.

The experience of Callum McGregor and the likes of James Forrest have helped hugely. Both are steeped in Celtic and have been there, seen it and and done it all. Forrest, with 23 trophies, is now level with Lisbon Lions skipper Billy McNeill as Celtic’s most decorated player.

You need that title know-how. Not a lot of the Rangers players have been over the course and distance of a title win.

Where would Celtic be without Scales?

It’s a mark of Rodgers that for long spells he didn’t have a settled team and managed to pick up points and bring people in at the right times.

Forrest’s reintroduction was perfect, Tomoki Iwata came in during Callum McGregor’s injury and had some great games. Adam Idah arrived on loan from Norwich in January to little fanfare and has scored crucial goals - two at Motherwell, two at Hibs, and one at Ibrox spring to mind.

Matt O’Riley – a standout performer courted by Atletico Madrid - will rightly be lavished with praise. Callum McGregor is just a brilliant player and captain.

During my Celtic days he was always a quiet lad but led by the way he played. As a young boy coming in he embraced the challenge and could rely on him quite early, which is unusual, so you knew he had those leadership qualities.

Now at 30 he’s a lot more vocal and the beating heart of this Celtic side.

Joe Hart needs to take a lot of credit too. He’s played every minute of his final league campaign.

Then you’ve got Liam Scales, who was third or fourth choice centre-back at best last summer. He seized his opportunity and hasn't looked back.

Where would Celtic be if it wasn’t for Scales? Recently, he’s been judged on a couple of balls at the back post. I’ve been there myself in terms of when you’re not the main singing for a lot of money, you’re judged quite harshly and scrutinised more.

I like to look at the things he’s done for the club – he’s been a bit of an unsung hero.

How do they build on one of best titles?

This title is Celtic’s 12th in 13 years. It has to go down as one of their best in that run.

So how do they build on this success? Rodgers will be obviously looking to make a few signings – he has already said he wants a “much stronger” squad - but some recent recruits could have a bigger part to play too.

Once they’ve settled for a year, you might see a different version of them.

It takes time when you join Celtic to settle in and fully realise what it’s all about. The likes of Luis Palma will benefit from having experienced the Champions League and playing at Celtic. He’s a still young player at 24, has contributed nine goals, and will be mentally stronger for this season.

Fellow winger Nicolas Kuhn, as well, has hopefully more to offer. Iwata has shown he can be a right good player.

If Celtic can refine the squad and add quality, they're in a real strong position for next season.

Former Celtic defender Charlie Mulgrew was speaking to BBC Sport Scotland’s Martin Watt