Scott Brown has welcomed the opportunity to secure Celtic’s seventh consecutive league title by beating a Rangers side he insists are not even the second best team in the country.
Celtic captain Brown believes the reigning champions should have ‘no problem’ getting the three points they need from Sunday’s Old Firm showdown at Parkhead to cross the Scottish Premiership finishing line this season with four games to spare.
The title-clinching scenario which the Scottish Professional Football League post-split fixture planners had hoped to avoid has become a reality after Celtic were unable to seize their first chance to win the title when they lost 2-1 to Brown’s former club Hibs at Easter Road on Saturday.
It also leaves Hibs with genuine prospects of winning the battle with Rangers and Aberdeen for runners-up spot in the top flight this year. Brown is already in no doubt Neil Lennon’s team are the best of the rest behind Celtic.
“Hibs are the second best team in the country,” said Brown. “They came up from the Championship last year and have shown everyone how good they can be.
“They’ve got a top quality manager, a good young team. If they can keep that together, who knows what they can do? They definitely have given us our toughest games this season. They play good football but they’re also up for the battle.”
Brown, speaking at the launch of Celtic’s new playing kit for next season, is relishing Sunday’s occasion against a Rangers side who were humbled 4-0 by the champions when the teams met in the Scottish Cup semi-final at Hampden nine days ago.
“It would be the icing on the cake (to clinch the league against Rangers), to be perfectly honest,” he added. “Especially for the fans. Everyone tried to stop it happening – but now we have a chance to do it.
“We had that disappointing result at the weekend but that means we have a chance to do it on Sunday. Probably nobody else apart from Celtic fans would want this to happen.
“But now we have the chance to do it. Here’s hoping we can produce for the fans. The league always try to stop this kind of situation happening. It’s part and parcel of the top six. Nobody knows what can happen in the last four or five weeks of the season, so they just decide to try to plan what they can.
“It happens so rarely, the chance to win the title in a game against Rangers, so it does give us an incentive. Especially after our disappointing result at the weekend. We really need to show how good we are after a poor performance.
“We need to make sure that, against Rangers, we just show how good we can be – especially in front of our own fans.
“It’s always all about Celtic. If we turn up, we play, we reach our best, we beat Rangers – no problem. But we need to make sure we do the hard work over the next four or five days leading up to the game.
“Rangers will have a point to prove, especially with the semi-final result, the way they played and everything that has been happening since. They will want to come after us and try to put us under pressure, make us make mistakes. But we’ve got top quality players who can cope with pressure and play through it.
“The long unbeaten run we are on against Rangers is great. But we need to make sure we keep doing it. We’ve got one more game to go against them before the end of the season. If we win it, we win the league and that’s what everyone at Celtic wants.”
Brown’s contribution to Celtic’s season was recognised at the club’s own annual awards dinner on Sunday night when he claimed both of their Player of the Year prizes - voted for by supporters and his team-mates respectively.
The 32-year-old midfielder, who is also a leading contender for the forthcoming Scottish Football Writers’ Association and PFA Scotland Player of the Year honours, believes he can continue to perform at the highest level for Celtic until at least 2021.
“I feel that I can go on for another three seasons, easily,” he said. “I’m enjoying myself. I’m coming up to 33 in the summer. If I get to 36 or even 37, I will see where it goes from there.
“It’s just about eating better, understanding what to do and when, working harder in training. Training has been different class since the manager came in and we’ve all really worked on looking after our bodies.
“It was nice to get the club awards on Sunday. Everyone doubted me a couple of seasons back but I’ve bounced back and shown them what I can do yet again. I never doubt myself. That’s one good thing that I’ve got. I believe in my own ability. I turn up, I work hard and that’s what I’ve done for the last 15, 16 years of my career.
“Is this my best season? I’ve had some other good seasons. I really enjoyed the first couple of seasons under Gordon Strachan. I’ve maybe had a dip in form here and there. It’s just about being consistent, making sure you are available week in, week out and showing everyone what you can do. It’s a good mentality to have. I’m a strong-willed person. I believe in my own ability. When it comes to me and somebody else, I believe I’m better than them. That’s great to have.”