The small matter of a fourth successive clean sweep of the Scottish honours for Celtic has been virtually overlooked as attention has focused on the high-profile collisions with Rangers and AC Milan. Both ended in home defeats but Celtic’s next three fixtures see them engage in three competitions, with Sunday's Scottish Premiership meeting with Aberdeen at Pittodrie and next week’s Scottish Cup semi-final – also against the Dons – bookending a visit to Lille for Thursday’s Europa League group stage tie.
The Scottish Cup outing, though, is a carryover from last season and the final stage of a campaign which saw Neil Lennon’s players beat Rangers in the Betfred Scottish League Cup final and awarded the championship after a title race truncated by the pandemic. Success against Aberdeen at Hampden Park would put the Hoops into the final against either Hearts or Hibs, with the prize being an unprecedented annexation of the Scottish honours for the fourth time in a row.
Asked if the potential accomplishment had been submerged amidst a welter of other issues, Lennon said: “Yeah, not by us though. The players will be highly motivated to achieve that.
“When you do it once it’s amazing, when you do it three times it’s incredible, to do it a fourth time - I think people have sort of bypassed that, the chance of a 12th trophy in a row.
“It’s probably something we’ll never see again and that’s why these players should be lauded. Their consistency is fantastic. They will come again, there is no question of that. They will have the bit between their teeth with these games coming up now.”
A visit to Pittodrie, when the ground is mostly populated with animated home fans can present a hazardous task for both Old Firm sides, although its reputation has been variable in that regard in recent years and Rangers won the first contest of the Scottish Premiership season there at the start of August.
“Test of character? It is just another game,” Lennon said. “These players have character in abundance. I just want to see us improve now because we have been decimated. It has been very stop-start.
“It is not ideal, but, slowly but surely, we will get them back. I don’t think the damage, if you can call it that, is irreparable. There is a long way to go.”
Lennon’s reference to loss of strength is apt, given that Christophe Jullien is a long-term absentee because of a back injury, Odsonne Edouard has yet to regain full fitness after Covid-19 quarantine – likewise, Nir Bitton and Hatem Elhamed – while Ryan Christie tested negative but was forced to self-isolate because of contact with Stuart Armstrong while on international duty with Scotland.
Christie’s consequent shortfall in match fitness meant that he played only the second half against Milan, allowing Lennon to switch from a toiling 3-5-2 formation to a more energetic and effective 4-4-2.
“It was important for Ryan because he has been sitting in a room for two weeks,” Lennon said.
“We couldn’t start him because you are worried about him being fatigued or being fatigued going forward for Sunday.”
Christie emphasised his frustration at enforced idleness when he said: “If I had missed one more game my head would have just about fallen off.
“You need to wonder when it goes past common sense that I needed to stay in despite constant negative tests, but that’s just the way it is right now.”
That verity was emphasised when St Mirren confirmed that more players had returned positive tests ahead of Saturday's scheduled home game against Hamilton, which was duly postponed.
Motherwell, meanwhile, announced that one of their players had been forced to self-isolate but that no other tests had been positive ahead of their trip to Ross County. Aside from having their meeting with St Mirren postponed, Motherwell’s fixture against Kilmarnock on October 2 was also deferred because of coronavirus cases within the Rugby Park squad.
Kilmarnock have now been charged with breaches of the SPFL’s coronavirus regulations and will be the subject of a disciplinary inquiry. The SPFL are currently consulting all 42 member clubs with a view to establishing an agreed process in the event that competitions have to be truncated because of the pandemic.
If the rest of this weekend’s schedule proceeds without disruption, Saturday’s card will see Kilmarnock at home to Hibs, and St Johnstone meet Dundee United in the Tayside derby at Perth.
Rangers, whose 2-0 Europa League victory away to Standard Liege featured a spectacular goal scored from a range of 54.6 yards by Kemar Roofe, will face Livingston at Ibrox, where Steven Gerrard will make changes to keep his team fresh after their midweek exertions.