Celtic not 'perfect' but 'in touching distance' of title

Celtic side are now within "touching distance" of the Scottish Premiership title despite not having a "perfect season", says manager Brendan Rodgers.

A slew of injuries, fan frustration and a closely run-race with Rangers have added bumps to the road in the Northern Irishman’s first season back in Glasgow.

But, after beating their 10-man city rivals 2-1 at Celtic Park to move six points clear with two games to go, Rodgers concedes the "finish line" is now in sight.

"To beat Rangers for the third time this season, I tip my hat to the players for their mentality and their ability to get the job done,” he told BBC Scotland.

"We're not over the line yet, but we're in a great place. It hasn't been a perfect season for us.

"The players have kept believing and progressing. When we've had those challenging moments, we stayed very unified and together.

"It's always the best team that wins after 38 games. We're not there yet, but the finish line is in touching distance.”

Celtic lost a seven-point lead earlier in the season but have now re-established a six-point gap.

That means a draw in either of their final two matches against Kilmarnock or St Mirren will clinch the title.

After consecutive defeats by Hearts and Kilmarnock in December, former Celtic striker Chris Sutton suggested Rodgers was “going through the motions”.

And Rodgers revisited those comments in the wake of his 13th win in 17 Old Firm derbies over his two spells in charge.

“From a personal level, I have been treated like a novice since I’ve come back, like it’s my first job," he said.

“But it’s the mentality of the team that is most important to me. You can see from where we were, with injuries, how we stayed unified, and how we get to this point where we are nearly crossing the finishing line.

“And we don’t just want to cross it, we want to sprint over it.”

'The gulf is huge and should get bigger'

Scottish football can be unpredictable, but anything other than Celtic celebrating an 12th title in 13 years seems implausible now.

For many of those triumphs, the trophy has been adorned in green and white ribbons without much of a challenge to speak of.

But after Philippe Clement arrived at Ibrox to clean up a club in disarray following Michael Beale’s departure, a contest was conjured.

Rangers' slip-ups at Ross County and Dundee left their challenge in question. As they so often have in this spell of dominance, it was Celtic who found the answers.

Despite the nip and tuck of this title tussle, BBC Sportsound pundit Leanne Crichton believes there is a chasm between the Glasgow side – and it is only growing wider.

“Celtic should have won this league at a canter. When you look at the two teams, they're miles ahead. The gulf is huge,” the former Scotland international said.

“That gulf should only get bigger because of the financial gain from winning this league and getting into the Champions League.

“Rangers shouldn't be getting close to Celtic for a number of years now.”

If the Ibrox side are to make up the distance, it appears they will need to have a busy summer.

Scattergun recruitment cost Beale his job, and may left his successor without the necessary tools to fully unlock a tilt at the title.

Clement will now look to another Old Firm derby in the Scottish Cup final.

Following that, Michael Stewart thinks it’s back the drawing board in the hope of building a squad capable of fulfilling the Belgian's ambitions.

“The only bit of solace for Rangers is they have a good manager there,” the ex-Scotland midfielder said on Sportsound.

“In terms of the playing squad, they need an overhaul. Celtic’s starting XI is unquestionably better than Rangers’.”

Can Celtic kick on and make European statement?

Clement says he won’t concede the title until it’s “mathematically sure,” but did acknowledge a comeback is now a “long shot”.

And BBC Sport Scotland commentator Liam McLeod anointed Celtic the “undisputed kings” of Scotland in recent times as the full-time whistle at Celtic Park was drowned out by raucous celebrations.

But with a proven manager at the helm and domestic dominance consolidated, can they kick on in Europe?

“Rodgers has got to be given the opportunity to build a team that can go out there and compete," former Celtic goalkeeper Pat Bonner says.

“They have the finances. He needs three really top-class players. Wil they come to Scotland? Will Celtic be able to afford them?

“Those questions have got to be answered to give them a crack at the Champions League."

But before Rodgers asks those above him for backing, he says “living rooms, bars and clubs around the world” will revel in their derby victory on Saturday.

The Celtic support have become used to days like these.

Rangers, meanwhile, must use their envy to ensure this year's close contest doesn't remain a rarity.