LAST weekend marked the end of a hugely successful era for Celtic football club as the league championship, which they had proudly won for the past nine years, finally slipped out of their grasp.

We knew the day was coming, and had done for many months now, but when it actually arrived and particularly in the manner in which it arrived, it was a tough one to take.

The Ibrox club have been a model of consistency this season, not always spectacular and some of their results were, let’s say, assisted but they were much better than Celtic and deserved to be crowned champions.

I’m sure they would have preferred to have won it out on the pitch instead of their win coming as a result of Celtic dropping points at Tannadice but after 10 barren years it will matter little to them.

For Celtic, it was a desperately disappointing way to finally lose the title as a win at Dundee United last Sunday would have delayed the inevitable a while longer.

To say that they went out with a whimper would be a touch unfair as they put a lot into trying to win the match, particularly in the first period, but just couldn’t put the ball in the net.

If you have 27 shots on goal, with 12 of those on target, without scoring then your strikers have either had a shocker or the opposition ’keeper has been outstanding.

United ’keeper Siegrist holds the Premiership record for most saves made this season but in truth he didn’t have to make any world-class saves last Sunday as most of the Hoops’ shots were straight at him.

As the time ticked on, the Celtic players’ heads dropped as the realisation of what was about to happen dawned on them. The feeling that they had thrown away their chance of making history and that they would go down as the men who lost the 10 will have hit them hard.

After the final whistle, there were jubilant scenes among the blue hordes in Glasgow and Belfast as the law of the land and any thoughts of social distancing went out of the window.

These celebrations will undoubtedly turn out to be Covid super-spreader events in the weeks ahead, maybe then the faux moral outrage around Parkhead protests and high-profile funerals will die down. Then again, maybe not.

I hope that the Celtic players, at least the ones who will still be around next season, will watch all the triumphalism, and read all the headlines denigrating their successes of the last nine years, and use it as motivation to come back after the summer break stronger than ever. For all that Sevco have had a good campaign, for Celtic it has not been anywhere near the standard we expect.

It is clear that too many people, in the board, in the dugout and on the pitch, felt that they only had to turn up this season to record their tenth league win in a row.

There followed a perfect storm of poor recruitment, previously high performers considerably dropping their standards and a massive and unexpected improvement in the other team across Glasgow.

The board’s continuing failure to acknowledge the deficiencies in the coaching team also did us no favours. Put simply, Celtic were caught cold and they paid the ultimate price for their complacency. It is a mistake they should not make again.

There is a huge task ahead of the club in the coming months, to prove that this season, heavily influenced as it was by matters outside of football, was an aberration. To prove that Dave King’s arrogant prediction, that the Celtic “house of cards” would fall as soon as they lost one title, was just so much hot air.

In the space of a week, the Bhoys have now relinquished two of the trophies which they have become used to calling their own over the last four years.

With St Johnstone claiming the Scottish League Cup at the end of last month and Sevco taking the league trophy last weekend the only thing that Celtic have to play for, apart from what’s left of their pride, is the Scottish Cup.

The competition was only cleared to resume last week and it will take some effort to catch up on the number of games missed if they are to hold the final on the May 22 as planned.

Celtic hold the record for most wins in the competition and have won it for the last four years so they will be determined to put up a bold showing this year.

Winning it again won’t make up for the utter disappointment of the past season but it could provide some consolation for the fans, while at the same time stopping their main rivals from completing the double.

Celtic are due to play either Arbroath or Falkirk in the first week of April and surely neither of those clubs will prevent them from progressing through to the fourth round.

Of more immediate concern next weekend is the visit of Sevco to Celtic Park and the thorny question of whether or not the Hoops’ players should give their Ibrox counterparts a guard of honour.

This is an accolade normally given to the champions by the opposition team in the next game they play after winning the league title and Celtic have enjoyed this particular honour for most of the last nine years.

There was one notable exception of course, after Celtic had wrapped up their eighth title in-a-row two years ago, and Sevco refused to give them the customary tribute even though they played the Ibrox team in their very next game.

Neil Lennon bemoaned the lack of respect at that time and may have backed Celtic into a corner by saying that had the shoe been on the other foot then his team would have followed the tradition.

Celtic are on a hiding to nothing here, damned if they do by a majority of their own fans, and damned if they don’t by those outside the club who will say it is sour grapes.

There would of course be some merit in taking the moral high ground and clapping their Glasgow rivals onto the Celtic Park pitch next weekend, even if that applause was delivered in half-hearted fashion.

My own view, however, is that to get respect you give respect. There is no love lost between the clubs and therefore Celtic should replicate what Sevco did two years ago and leave it up to the next team they play to give them the guard of honour.

The Celts will probably be criticised for this but the criticism from their own fans would be worse so they should simply opt for the lesser of two evils and for once this season actually listen to the people who pay the bills. Tickety-Bhoy!