By Martin Macdonald
|A SEASON TO REMEMBER
The demise of Rangers FC to the Scottish Third Division before the start of this season saw Celtic named overwhelming favourites to be crowned champions of the Premier League.
With the Hoops' talented squad, fanbase, and healthy infrastructure, the likes of Dundee United, Hearts, and Motherwell were all seen to be involved in a battle for the forthcoming season - but only for the runners-up place in the SPL.
It was to be a season of ups, downs, and definite surprises for Neil Lennon's men.
The Bhoys kicked off their competitive campaign this season by beginning their quest to return to the group stage of the Uefa Champions League. Two-leg fixtures against HJK Helsinki and Helsingborgs looked to be tricky ties on paper, but an eventual 2-0 victory over the Swedish side at Celtic Park thanks to goals from Gary Hooper and Victor Wanyama saw the Glasgow outfit on their way to a truly memorable European campaign that would last until after Christmas.
Domestic action kicked off at home and a winning start was ensured thanks to a solitary goal from Kris Commons, which sealed a 1-0 victory over Aberdeen. However, the promising start halted somewhat as over the next few weeks, points would be dropped against Ross County, Hibernian, and St Johnstone.
The Hoops made a steady start to their Champions League Group Stage campaign with a solid 0-0 draw at home against Benfica and a superb 3-2 away win against Spartak Moscow. The European drama was just starting, though.
The other team drawn against the Scottish champions, was the Spanish champions, Barcelona. The Catalan giants were pencilled in to walk Group G, but they were to be given a massive shock at the Camp Nou as Georgios Samaras opened the scoring in the 18th minute.
Celtic battled hard, but Barcelona were able to reverse the deficit thanks to goals from Andres Iniesta and Jordi Alba.
Revenge would be incredibly sweet, however. Lennon's outfit shook the foundations of football when, thanks to a Victor Wanyama header and momentous Tony Watt goal, Celtic would go on to defeat Tito Vilanova's men 2-1.
Domestically things were far from rosy, though. Shortly after the Barcelona match Celtic would go on to take just one point from three games, and would be defeated by Inverness Caledonian Thistle for the Highlands side's first ever league win at Celtic Park.
Tension grew between Lennon and some sections of the support, and got to the point where the Irishman threatened his resignation.
However, after the match against Terry Butcher's side, the Bhoys would go on to win five straight league matches, and progress to the last 16 of the Champions League thanks to a 2-1 victory over Spartak Moscow in Glasgow.
Seven wins and a draw from the first eight matches of 2013 saw a chasm begin to appear between the league leaders and their nearest rivals in second place.
Disappointingly, though, the run was marred as St Mirren dumped the Hoops out of the Scottish Communities League Cup.
Thursday December 20 saw Celtic fans book up for a trip to Turin, as they saw their club drawn against the formidable Italian champions, Juventus, in the knockout stage of Europe's premier club competition.
Sadly, it was to be the end of the road for the Bhoys in the Champions League. A damaging 3-0 defeat at home set the tone for the tie as Celtic were eventually dumped out of the competition after a 2-0 defeat at Juventus Stadium.
However, a bond was embraced between the fans at the match after the Celtic fans sang with gusto continuously for 90 minutes, with scarves eventually being swapped as a sign of brotherhood. It was another night in which pride oozed out of the Hoops faithful, despite the result.
It proved to be a blessing on home soil, too. With European ambitions put to bed for another season the champions marched towards the SPL title, with the clinching win coming in a stylish 4-1 victory over Inverness.
Neil Lennon's men have had a few weeks to prepare for the Scottish Cup final against Hibernian. The capital club reached the final in sensational circumstances as they came from three goals down to win 4-3 against Falkirk.
Celtic's semi-final was also a footballing treat. A 4-3 thriller eventually saw the Hoops progress to the final, which takes place on Sunday, May 26.
All in all it has been a great season for the champions, with another SPL title in the bag, a momentous European run, and the prospect of a double on the cards for Neil Lennon's men.
|MOMENT OF THE SEASON
We at Inside Celtic have had the pleasure to be present at many of the heart-stopping moments of the season to date.
Qualifying for the Champions League, the embrace with the Juventus fans, Tony Watt's winner against Barcelona, and Efe Ambrose's gravity defying celebration against St Mirren have all been sensational moments.
However, a particular moment outshines a winner against Barcelona.
The Hoops made it to the Champions League group stage this campaign for the first time since 2008, and were immediately written off as being the stuck-on whipping boys of Group G.
A solid start against Benfica and a history-defying win in Russia against Spartak Moscow made the world take notice of the 1967 European Cup winners, however.
Celtic were a club to be respected and perhaps even feared, and no more so did they prove this than against Barcelona at Nou Camp.
Fans travelled in their thousands to sunny Catalunya as they prepared to see their team face the imperious outfit put together by Pep Guardiola and now steered by Tito Vilanova.
From the word 'go' in the stadium there was a magical tone to the air. Strangely, Celtic fans spoke of their confidence that they believed their side would score at Camp Nou
And they did.
Charlie Mulgrew swung in a free kick from the right-hand side and Georgios Samaras put himself about enough to force Javier Mascherano into turning the ball into his own net.
It wasn't a pretty goal, but the world stopped for a moment as a few thousand Celtic fans erupted in unbelievable celebrations and silenced 95,000 Catalans.
Neil Lennon's men may have gone one further in actually defeating Barca at Celtic Park a fortnight later, but it was the goal on away turf which gave the side, and the fans, belief.
Jordi Alba's late winner at Nou Camp was a truly heartbreaking moment for the Hoops faithful, but they proved they could once again hang with the big boys as they led against the greatest side on earth for 27 inspirational minutes on their own patch.
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