Celtic have established a British record for unbeaten domestic matches with 69. The new landmark was set prior to Celtic’s 4-0 defeat to Heart of Midlothian on Sunday 17th December. This was their first defeat since 11th May 2016, 2-1 vs St Johnstone.
The record traversed three seasons and two managers – Ronnie Deila (1 match) and Brendan Rodgers (68 matches). The previous record was 62 matches unbeaten held by Celtic under Willie Maley during 1916/17.
Given the 12-team set up in Scotland’s Premier division, Celtic have only faced 15 different clubs in setting the record.
The “least worst” opponent has been Hibernian, who came within 10 minutes of defeating Celtic in a 2-2 draw at Celtic Park. Celtic “only” have a 56% success rate against the Edinburgh side (success rate is % of points won where a win is 3 points and a draw 1 point).
The closest Celtic came to defeat was at Motherwell on 29th November 2017 when Scott Sinclair’s penalty in the 88th minute rescued a point.
Celtic have scored more against League Cup Finalists Motherwell (28) than any other team during the run. The Hoops managed a 100% record against 7 of 15 opponents. Aberdeen and The Rangers, 2nd and 3rd in the SPFL respectively, have managed 1 draw in 14 encounters. A look at the league tables around Europe shows the Scottish Premier to be one of the most competitive.
197 goals started with a 7-0 victory over Motherwell, the most comprehensive win of the sequence. Once Celtic get past 2, they are as likely to score 4 or 5 as stop at 3. In 26 matches (38%) Celtic have scored at least 4.
No-one had stopped Celtic scoring domestically since Dundee on the 6th April 2016 – 620 days between opposition clean sheets.
Twenty-one players have scored those goals, with o.g.’s accounting for 1. Eight players have scored 10 or more.
Sinclair has scored 29 league goals whilst Dembele is the Cup specialist, with 13 in knock out football. There have been 19 penalties:
The players to score less than 10 goals are:
Twenty-four players have created goals during this run. There are nine in double figures, but the highest is Sinclair with 20. Roberts has the best Assist90 rate with 0.62 per 90m.
The nine highest assisters are:
Scoring Contribution is the sum of goals and assists expressed as an average per 90 minutes. The table above shows those with a better than 1 in 2 game average for goals and assists, who have played the equivalent of at least 10 games in the run.
The strikers are predictably at the top. Forrest made a late run this season. Oh, how we miss the injured Roberts and Rogic.
Conversely, Celtic have kept 38 clean sheets, 55% of all the matches in the sequence.
Hibernian and St Johnstone both managed 6 goals against Celtic, Hibernian in only 3 matches. Motherwell netted 3 in the famous 4-3 win for Celtic at Fir park. There have been 7 instances of opponents netting 2: Hibernian three times; St Johnstone twice; Inverness Caledonian Thistle and Ross County once.
Craig Gordon has been the ‘keeper for all but 1 of the clean sheets. De Vries was in net when Celtic won 1-0 against Dundee in October 2017.
All in the Timing
A noticeable feature of last season was that Celtic scored a lot of goals late in the game. Against defensive teams, who have very low possession, this was not surprising, although it also indicates improved Celtic fitness levels. 37 goals (20%) were scored in the last 10 minutes and 62 (34%) in the last 20 minutes.
Otherwise goals came quite steadily through the first 70 minutes aside from the first 10 minutes.
40 goals against is quite a small sample, but Celtic also conceded most frequently in the last 10 minutes, shipping 8 (23%).
Celtic were able to keep it tight in the crucial periods before and after half time, losing only 4 goals across those period, compared to 33 scored.
Across 69 matches, Celtic won 54 by taking the lead and winning the game.
Of the remaining 15:
Wins from losing positions = 6
Winning from a losing position is usually satisfying although there are some big wins in here. The 4-3 at Motherwell and of course the Scottish Cup Final treble winner in the 90th minute will both go down as memorable Celtic matches from this age.
Draws from losing positions = 3
Those 3 matches represent the closest the unbeaten run has been to an end. Motherwell were 2 minutes, Hibernian were 10 minutes and St Johnstone 11 minutes from victory.
Draws from winning positions = 6
There are some hard luck stories in here, not that Celtic will expect much sympathy! Inverness Caledonian Thistle score an equaliser in the last minute. Griffiths was denied a clear penalty in the last minute of the Glasgow Derby draw against The Rangers. Sinclair missed a penalty in the Glasgow Derby against Partick Thistle. The 2-2 Ross County game saw Schalk rewarded for a blatant dive for a late penalty equaliser.
The rest of Scotland are weeping in empathetic sorrow, I’m sure.
The extent to which Celtic can dominate domestic matches is be seen with a few core metrics. Averaging 69% possession, Celtic out pass the opposition by around 3:1. From that possession, they fashion comparatively more on target chances to the ratio of 3.4:1. Whilst the opposition perform exactly as per the Expected Goals model, Celtic on average outperform the model, possessing players capable of shooting accurately from distance, and possessing higher calibre creators and finishers than the average players in the league.
Celtic completed 800 or more passes four times with 895 against Albion Rovers the highest. A 3-1 win at Aberdeen in May 2017 saw Celtic complete the least number of passes – 249.
Only twice have Celtic had less than 50% possession. In a 3-0 away win at Hamilton Academical in December 2016, with 10 men and the aforementioned win at Pittodrie.
Celtic once managed 20 shots on target in a single match. This was achieved with a young side in a 5-0 League Cup win over Motherwell in August 2016. The Hoops managed 28 shots off target at home to St Johnstone in August 2017. The match finished 1-1.
Victory was achieved once with a single shot on target. Boyata’s header saw off Aberdeen at Celtic Park in February 2016.
Three times the opposition managed 6 shots on target against the Champions. Heart of Midlothian in August 2016 when Sinclair’s late goal won it. On 31st December away to The Rangers in what was Warburton’s last stand. And finally, in September 2017 as Hibernian achieved a 2-2 draw at Celtic Park. Hibernian’s 17 shots total at Celtic Park in that game represents the most by an opponent.
No side has managed more than 13 shots off target. Aberdeen were 3-0 down to Celtic in May 2017 and went all in to retrieve the situation.
On eight occasions the opposition have not managed a single shot on target. Three times that side has been Kilmarnock. Despite this they did score 1 goal, Jones shot deflecting in off a Celtic player to beat Gordon in a 1-3 defeat.
Albion Rovers, Dundee and Kilmarnock have all managed a single effort overall in games against Celtic. 1 shot in 90 minutes is the least against the Celts.
Consideration of Expected Goals reveals the games were Celtic perhaps “got away with it”. Over 69 matches, there were four where Celtic’s xG was lower than or equal to the oppositions.
The greatest discrepancies were Celtic’s 5-0 League Cup win over Motherwell (respective xG’s were 5.99 to 0.18) and 6-1 league win against Kilmarnock (4.35 to 0.23).
Finally, who are the Bhoys that have contributed most to the making of history? 39 players have appeared in the 69 matches, over three seasons.
The first category is The Backbone. They have contributed the most to the cause in terms of minutes on the park. No surprise the goalkeeper and captain are in there. Gratifying to see four Scots. A few of these Invincibles getting pelters recently, mind.
Gordon played in the equivalent of 64.5 matches out of 69. Brown led the way from the outfield with 58.2.
Then there are those who are integral to the squad, and have contributed in 40-60% of the game time.
Those that have contributed in between 10 and 20 % of the game time.
Finally, the Young prospects, the dearly departed and the “never wills”, and Ciftci.
And so, the time is near…..
69 matches undefeated is a magnificent achievement in any league. People tend to undersell Scottish football, and Celtic have had plenty of tough matches, in tough conditions. The record may never be beaten but we should be proud to have lived through it and remember the contributors with thanks.
What happens next will be fascinating as Rodgers wrung this run out of a side mainly consisting players inherited from previous regimes. Only Sinclair of the Rodgers’ signings appeared in over 50% of the record.
Can they go again, or has the cycle turned for some of the Invincibles?