Football: Celtic canter to Scottish title - again

Celtic's Anthony Stokes celebrating his goal against Partick Thistle during their Scottish Premier League match at Firhill Stadium, Glasgow, on March 26, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Celtic's Anthony Stokes celebrating his goal against Partick Thistle during their Scottish Premier League match at Firhill Stadium, Glasgow, on March 26, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

SCOTLAND (REUTERS) - One of Europe's least competitive league title races reached its inevitable conclusion when Celtic retained the Scottish crown with a 5-1 victory over Partick Thistle on Wednesday, march 26, 2014.

Two goals by Anthony Stokes and one each from Stefan Johansen, Liam Henderson and Kris Commons secured Celtic, European Cup winners in 1967, their 45th top-flight title with seven matches remaining having won 27 and lost one of their 31 games to extend their lead over Aberdeen to 26 points.

Although Celtic were not the first side to wrap up a league title this season, with Olympiakos Piraeus winning in Greece, Salzburg in Austria and Bayern Munich in Germany, there was never any doubt their triumph was going to be a matter of when rather than if.

It would have been a brave punter who bet against The Bhoys securing the championship in the continued absence of Old Firm rivals Rangers, who were relegated to the fourth-tier in 2012 after collapsing under massive debts.

Rangers, 54-times champions and one of the best supported clubs in Britain, are not alone in suffering financial upheaval, with Edinburgh-based Hearts docked 15 points at the start of the season for entering administration and Kilmarnock and Dundee United recently securing deals to reduce their debt levels.

Having secured back-to-back promotions with their League One title success this month, the earliest Rangers could return to Scotland's top flight would be the season after next.

Even then it seems unlikely they would have the resources to mount an immediate title challenge against their bitter local foes, meaning Celtic's domination is almost certain to continue.

Celtic's involvement in European competition, including the Champions League in the past two seasons, means they operate on a completely different financial level to their domestic rivals, who are realistically fighting for second place and the odd cup success. Aberdeen won this season's League Cup.

Scotland is not the only European league to be dominated by a small number of clubs, but that does not stop regular questions being asked about the future of the game given Aberdeen, the only team to beat Celtic in the league this season, were the last side outside the Old Firm to win the title in 1984-1985.

Regular calls are made for Celtic and Rangers to join the English Premier League, a move that would further cripple the game in Scotland given the crowds the games attract, and a restructuring of the current four professional tiers is talked about almost as frequently.

The Scottish Premiership regularly loses its best young players to English clubs in search of greater opportunities, a drain even Celtic are not immune from.

Despite last season's Champions League success in which they reached the last-16 after a famous group-stage victory over Barcelona, they could not prevent Victor Wanyama, Joe Ledley and Gary Hooper moving to Premier League Southampton, Crystal Palace and Norwich City.

None of those clubs could offer European competition but they were still seen as better options than remaining in the ultimate one-horse race.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.