EARLY days admittedly, but Celtic don’t just look capable of winning a record-equalling ninth consecutive Scottish title this season, they look like they can do it in some style.

Neil Lennon’s men will face far more demanding games, not least against a resurgent Rangers, than their opening Ladbrokes Premiership match against a desperately disappointing St Johnstone in the coming months.

Nevertheless, the manner in which the defending champions swatted aside their opponents yesterday suggested that widespread predictions of their impending demise as the dominant force in this country are, unlike their finishing, well wide of target.

A hat-trick from Ryan Christie and goals from Mikey Johnston, Olivier Ntcham, Odsonne Edouard and Leigh Griffiths saw the defending champions rack up a record score over their rivals and move immediately to the top of the league table. On the evidence of this 90 minutes, they will take some shifting.

Tommy Wright, the McDiarmid Park club’s manager, bemoaned the lack of an on-field leader and a striker afterwards. But his opposite number’s team were as impressive as his were poor.

So much for Lennon’s sides not being able to entertain supporters as much as those of his predecessor Brendan Rodgers. The 58,877-strong crowd which crammed into Parkhead to see the league flag unfurled for the eighth straight year had much to cheer. They have a great deal to look forward to in the coming 37 games.

That Ntcham and Griffiths started on the bench shows the wealth of talent that Lennon has at his disposal. Christopher Jullien and Jozo Simunovic were both suspended. But Nir Bitton started out of position at centre half and helped Celtic keep the first of what promises to be many clean sheets. Strength in depth is not an issue.

Bitton was aided to no small degree by left back Boli Bolingoli and right back Hatem Abd Elhamed in his efforts. The summer signings both performed assuredly and showed why Lennon was so keen to add them to his squad. But it was Christie who really caught the eye and who was a deserved recipient of the Man of the Match award at the end of the 90 minutes.

Much has, as ever, been made of the new acquisitions that Celtic and Rangers have made in recent weeks. But the return to action of Christie, who missed the final weeks of last season after suffering multiple facial fractures in the William Hill Scottish Cup semi-final, has been, as the old cliché goes, like signing a new player.

And a decent one at that. The Scotland internationalist netted three times from outside the St Johnstone penalty box before being replaced by Ntcham in order to rest him ahead of the Champions League qualifier against Cluj in Romania on Wednesday evening. They took his tally for the 2019/20 season to six after five games.

Lennon revealed that Christie had been reluctant to come off. “He was unhappy with me last week (when he was replaced in the Nomme Kalju game after scoring a double) so I just thought I would let him get the hat-trick and then take him off,” he said. “He was still unhappy because he wanted four. He is a greedy get! But he is in a good place. I want to keep him injury-free. He will be important to us again on Wednesday.”

He added: “Ryan is a great boy, a great professional, dead easy to work with. When you tell him one or two things he takes them on board. He just wants to do well, wants to impress, wants to please people. I have inherited a great player there.

“He used his time away to look after himself. He did a lot of gym work. You can see his body has changed over the last couple of years. He is far stronger now in his upper body. He is riding tackles a lot more. That gives him confidence to skip by people. He has always been a technician, but now he has got added bulk and power to his game we are seeing a very good player.”

Lennon believes that both Christie, the former Inverness Caledonian Thistle and Aberdeen midfielder, and his Celtic side can improve further in the coming weeks.

“Ryan is unquestionably a top team player and he will get better,” he said. “He likes the work, he likes to listen, he has got great enthusiasm and stamina for the game. Allied to that he has got great talent. He is in a good place at the minute and we just want him to carry on in the same vein. But I think the whole team have got more goals in them.

“You are always looking for more but if we get the wee man (Griffiths) up to full speed, what an asset he is going to be for me. We have got goals in Odsonne, goals in (James) Forrest, (Scott) Sinclair, Christie and (Callum) McGregor and that pleases me.”

The league flag was unfurled by Liz McNeill and Sadie Chalmers, the widows of European Cup winning captain Billy and final goalscorer Stevie respectively, in the centre circle before kick-off after a count to eight by the stadium announcer.

The Lisbon Lions would definitely have approved of that touching tribute – and what followed.