PREDICTIONS that Celtic’s long reign as the dominant force in Scottish football was set to come to an end were still ringing in the ears of Neil Lennon and his players as they touched down in Dubai back in January ahead of a warm weather training break.

They had been outplayed and deservedly beaten by Rangers at Parkhead in the final Premiership match before the winter shutdown at the end of December and their city rivals had moved to within two points of them in the top flight table with a game in hand as a result.

Many observers, including some sceptics among their own support, had forecast the balance of power in the game in this country was finally poised to shift in the second half of the 2019/20 campaign in the aftermath of the one-sided encounter.

But Lennon and his backroom team analysed the 90 minutes, pinpointed what had gone wrong, figured out a solution and worked with their squad at the Hamdan Sports Complex on their masterplan in the baking Middle East sun in the following days

Celtic lined up with a 3-5-2 formation when play resumed the next week and were transformed as a result. They scored 40 goals and conceded just seven times in their following 13 domestic fixtures. They had moved 13 points clear in the Premiership and reached the Scottish Cup semi-final before the coronavirus outbreak in March.

Lennon made, thanks to the arrival of Republic of Ireland centre half Shane Duffy on loan last week, the same tactical switch against Ross County in Dingwall on Saturday and watched as his team romped to an emphatic 5-0 triumph.

So will the change have the same impact on their performances this term and ensure they make history by completing 10-In-A-Row? Their experiences last term will surely give them optimism going forward.

Duncan Shearer, the former Chelsea, Huddersfield Town, Swindon Town, Blackburn Rovers, Aberdeen and Scotland striker, was at the Global Energy Stadium at the weekend. He believes the system suits the personnel Lennon has available to him perfectly and feels that playing two up front will pose serious problems for opposition defences.

“There are a lot of factors involved in it,” said Shearer. “Neil probably feels he has to pick the system because of the strengths of his players. Jeremie Frimpong, for example, is more effective pushing forward than he is defensively.

“But defensively it isn’t an issue. The Celtic wing backs end up dropping back when the opposition are attacking so they aren’t exposed at the back. James Forrest and Frimpong both did a bit of defending at the weekend and they kept a clean sheet despite Billy McKay and Ross Stewart both having good games.

“It is refreshing to see a side play two in attack as well. A lot of managers are going for 4-2-3-1 these days, playing a man in the hole, a No.10, and fielding just one striker up front. To do that you need a specific type of striker. You need somebody who is busy, sharp, runs in to corners, runs here, runs there and is patient.

“I would have struggled. I don’t think that system can accommodate a big target man, a Duncan Shearer, a John Hartson, a Chris Sutton, a Mark Hateley. We were players who fed off our team mates. We were brought up playing in systems where two strikers played together.

“Going to a 3-5-2 brought out the best in many of their players. Look at the enthusiasm Albian Ajeti had up front. He was chasing, running, harrying opponents and scored the second goal. He looked as though he was enjoying himself. He was playing with a smile on his face. Patryk Klimala looked decent enough when he came on as well.”

However, Shearer, who spent spells as assistant manager at both Aberdeen and Inverness Caledonian Thistle after retiring from playing, still reckons Celtic need time and games to get used to the system.

“I wasn’t convinced with Olivier Ntcham,” he said. “His passing was poor, he gave the ball away too much. But I think Ryan Christie probably started on the bench because he had been involved in both of the Scotland games during the international break. It wouldn’t surprise me if Ryan comes back in against St Mirren on Wednesday. It is a role he knows all about. He is creative, he scores goals.

“I wasn’t convinced with Kristoffer Ajer on the left side of the back three either. He got caught out a few times, in the first-half in particular, and got booked. He was lucky he didn’t pick up a second yellow and get sent off after that. He didn’t look too comfortable. Having said that, Duffy looked a class act. He strolled through the game.”

Lennon took full advantage of the temporary amendment to the SPFL rules and fielded five substitutes in the second-half. That underlined to Shearer that he has squad to change how Celtic both line up and play depending on the opponent and the occasion.

“Celtic have an amazing knack of unearthing good young players,” he said. “I played at Swindon Town with Nicky Hammond. He was our second choice goalkeeper. I know him very well. He is doing a great job as their director of football operations.

“I looked at the Celtic bench on Saturday and thought they had some strength in depth. It was nice to see David Turnbull coming on. Hopefully we will see more of him in the coming weeks.

“Celtic will have real problems giving them all game time. It is hard if you are sitting on the bench not getting on. I know for a fact that wee Jonny Hayes found it difficult. Eventually, he had enough of training all week and not featuring on a Saturday. But having too many players is better than not have enough back-up.”