FIGHTING back after being written off is nothing new to Celtic captain Scott Brown. But biting back at his detractors as readily as he did after the Sparta Prague defeat on Thursday was novel even for this famously fiery character.

Rather than dismissing notions about how much of a race his 35-year-old legs have left to run though, the main thrust of Brown’s cry of defiance was that the conversation shouldn’t really be about him at all.

That he was far from his best before being substituted on the hour against the Czechs is beyond dispute, but while Brown isn’t about to concede that his on-pitch powers are on the wane, he is ready to accept it if his manager Neil Lennon decides that removing him from the line-up is for the good of the collective.

“Don’t worry about me, I just keep going on,” Brown said. “If the manager needs me, I’m there for him. If he needs to rest me, if he needs to play someone else, then I’m old enough and ugly enough to deal with it.

“I do whatever’s best for this team. Don’t you worry about myself or me listening to anyone else. I just worry about the team performance, it is not about individuals that you like to come after.

“For us it is all about us sticking together, not listening to the media, not listening to anything else, just worrying about ourselves.”

It is not only the Celtic players who are worrying about their prospects though. Their supporters are getting increasingly twitchy about the ropey form that the champions have exhibited throughout the season.

Nowhere is that more evident than at the back, where they are leaking goals at an alarming rate. They have won just one of their last six matches, and shipped 14 goals in those games.

“It’s not been something that we’ve been used to, but it is what it is,” said Brown.

“We have to make sure that now we can’t worry about what has happened in the past. We need to kick on now and we need to make sure we look into the future and we start playing as quickly as possible, and we keep clean sheets.

“We work extremely hard, the coaches and everyone puts sessions on for us, and we just don’t seem to be doing it together as a team, so now there are no excuses.

“We need to start defending as a team - and that goes from the front all the way through to the back.”

It would be foolish to write off a Celtic side that has won nine consecutive titles and stand on the brink of a fourth successive Treble. Particularly a Celtic side who were behind in the title race following their Old Firm defeat last December before exhibiting their powers of recovery to clinch another Premiership crown with plenty to spare.

Brown recognises though that this season, a similar turnaround in fortunes has to occur now. And there is only one way he knows to get through these tough moments.

“I think for us it’s just about working hard,” he said. “We have to make sure we do what we did last year, especially the second part of the season we came really good.

“But we can’t rely on the second part of the season coming because who knows what’s going to happen in the future. But now we have a game on Sunday [against Motherwell] that we have to look forward to.”

Suddenly, that match at Fir Park tomorrow lunchtime takes on huge significance not only for Celtic’s title ambitions, but potentially for the job security of Brown’s manager. That is a fact the Celtic skipper is all too aware of, and he is determined to ensure that he survives the test.

“We have to make sure we have a huge performance,” he said.

“We owe that to the manager. He’s always there fighting for us, taking the heat for us, but now it’s our turn to take the heat for him and we have to come out fighting for him.”

Perhaps the most worrying thing about the adject nature of Celtic’s performance on Thursday evening is that the reasoning behind their sub-par performances against Rangers, AC Milan and Aberdeen recently no longer rang true.

They were back to almost full strength in every area but centre-back, while Sparta Prague were the ones who were hugely depleted due to Coronavirus, leaving Brown only able to offer the restrictions placed on the Celtic team on the training ground as a possible reason for their lack of team spirit on Thursday night, if not a justification for it.

“It is always hard to build that bond when you are not in the changing room with the lads but that’s not an excuse,” he said.

“The Sparta performance was terrible - and that was from start to finish. That’s on the lads, it’s on nobody else. It is about people sitting in the stand, it is about those that are on the park.”