For Celtic FC, There's No Time for Faint Hearts

Daniel O'ConnellContributor IIIMay 18, 2009

EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND - MAY 17: Gary Caldwell, captain of Celtic, reacts at the end of the Scottish Premier League match between Hibernian and Celtic at Easter Road on May 17, 2009 in Edinburgh, Scotland.  (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

Sunday 22nd May 2005 is a date etched indelibly on the mind of every Celtic supporter. Requiring a win over Motherwell at Fir Park to clinch the SPL title, Celtic entered the 85th minute a goal ahead.

The world would come crashing down over the next five minutes as current Celtic forward Scott McDonald scored twice for Motherwell, allowing Rangers to snatch the title by a single point with a 1-0 win over Hibernian.

It is a memory which should serve as both an inspiration for Celtic and a warning for Rangers as we head into the final fixtures of a rollercoaster SPL season. Rangers find themselves two points ahead, but with an inferior goal difference. Although they must now be favourites to take the championship for the first time since 2005, they need to beat United to be sure of it.

A home win against Hearts on Sunday, coupled with anything other than a win for Rangers at Tannadice, will bring the SPL title to Celtic Park for the fourth year in succession. Any thoughts that the title is gone need to be banished and quickly. There is still a championship to be won.

So what are the chances? Well, there is every chance that Rangers will drop points at Tannadice, where they have not won in three seasons. United are chasing a Europa Cup place, for which they require one point, so have every incentive. It would be no surprise at all if this match were to finish level.

Unfortunately, a black mood has engulfed the Celtic support since yesterday's frustrating scoreless draw with Hibernian. It feels to many that the league is already lost.

The worry for Celtic supporters is that there is a distinct lack of confidence that Celtic will manage to beat Hearts. In three matches against the Tynecastle club this season, Celtic have won once, and drawn twice. A repeat of yesterday's pedestrian performance will simply not do.

What is required on Sunday is a good old-fashioned Celtic display of attacking football, of the type generations of fans grew up watching. The general impression from watching Celtic for the past two seasons has been of a team straining to be let off the leash, but subdued by order of the manager. 

Two seasons of pretty turgid football have been interspersed with moments of sublime quality. Even this campaign has been lit up by some breathtaking episodes, such as Georgios Samaras' goal at Fir Park, finishing off a flowing move of quick, one-touch passing football. 

Any team which contains players like McGeady, Nakamura, Brown, and McDonald is more than capable of blowing any SPL opposition away, but seems to be neutered by excessive caution. Gordon Strachan displays extraordinary patience during games, always confident that as long as things are kept nice and tight, the moment will arrive. It has brought the club success, but has not endeared him to a demanding support.

I see Sunday as being another frustrating 90 minutes of cautious, safety-first football. It will no doubt be 0-0 at half time, followed by a fraught second half of increasingly desperate Celtic attacks as the clock runs down on the season and quite possibly Strachan's managerial tenure at the club.

If this happens against a backdrop of Rangers struggling to get their noses ahead at Tannadice, Celtic Park will not be a pleasant place to spend the afternoon.

Gordon Strachan should be looking to see out this season in a blaze of glory. Let them off the leash. The worst thing that could happen this weekend is for Rangers to drop points to Dundee United and still take the title because of yet another insipid Celtic draw.

Unleash Hell, Gordon!