It is, therefore, a little sobering to realize that this weekend's 1-0 win at Celtic Park was the first time ICT had won there since that fateful occasion, and is only their fifth ever win over the Hoops. This one, in a way, is the least remarkable of the bunch. The humiliation of John Barnes's side in 2000 was followed by another cup win in Inverness in 2003, over a side managed by Martin O'Neill that had beaten Liverpool at Anfield three days before (and which, mind you, had Javier Sanchez Broto in goal). There have been two more Inverness victories since they graduated to SPL level - a stunning comeback from 2-0 down to beat Gordon Strachan's side in December 2007, then the sensational 3-2 win in May 2011 that singlehandedly destroyed Neil Lennon's bid for a first league title. This win comes in November, and, on its own, looks like simply a mild embarrassment and blip for the home side. After all, Celtic remain top of the table.
It is anything but a blip though. The table below shows Celtic's records after 14 matches in every season since the SPL started.
Celtic may be top of the league, but it is their worst start to a season in 14 years. Managers such as John Barnes and Tony Mowbray were vilified for starts to a season which were better than this.
Neil Lennon must count himself lucky that he lives in this particular universe. In plenty of parallel ones, his side did not come back from 3-0 down to draw at Kilmarnock last October - the Northern Irishman said himself after the game that his position would have been untenable had they lost. In a few other ones - this is me opening a can of worms, no question - the taxman might have come to the conclusion that Rangers' EBT scheme was indeed shady and immoral, but, frustratingly, legal. Rangers might have found a more reliable buyer than Craig Whyte; they might have avoided administration and given Celtic a much stronger run for their money for the title last year. Certainly, if they were in this year's SPL and unencumbered by a financial or points penalty, it seems inconceivable that they would have won only half of their opening fourteen matches.
Frankly, if Celtic were currently miles adrift of Rangers in the league table, as they would have been in pretty much every other season in the history of the Scottish Premier League, Neil Lennon would be on the brink of a P45. Barcelona or no Barcelona.
This season's Champions League campaign has kept Lennon in a job. Imagine that it was they, not Spartak Moscow, who are out of Europe with a game left. His players produced a terrific performance to win in Russia, and of course gave everything in both matches against Barcelona. But in plenty of parallel universes (I've been reading too much Brian Cox recently) Barca would have won at Celtic Park as well, and had a more comfortable victory at the Camp Nou. Celtic have saved their best performances for the big stage, but they have had their fair share of luck too.
The dual demands of domestic and European football have proven a convenient excuse for the poor start to the SPL campaign. The defeat to Inverness came, of course, only four days after the travel to Portugal to play Benfica. The heroic loss in Catalonia was followed up by a home loss as well, to Kilmarnock. Draws at Ross County and at home to Hibs and St. Johnstone mean that the team's record in SPL games immediately after European ones is 4 wins, 3 draws and 2 losses. Celtic fans will tell you that the players are tired, or that they aren't as motivated to play St Johnstone as they are to play Spartak. They will also say that the club are so certain that, as soon as their European adventure is over, they will steamroller the rest of the SPL, that they simply can't be bothered giving 100% right now.
That just doesn't wash. Considering that Lennon believes his Kenyan midfielder Victor Wanyama is worth not just more than the whole Inverness team, but probably worth more than the whole of the City of Inverness (many thanks to Andrew Sutherland for that quip), it's just not acceptable. Celtic's second best XI would be, on reputation, comfortably superior in pretty much every position to the strongest lineup of every other SPL side. To have been so sloppy as to drop 17 out of 42 points so far raises questions over the mentality of the players, and over the ability of the manager to motivate them sufficiently.
Of course Lennon won't be sacked. Celtic will win this league title, and that will keep the supporters happy enough. The kudos from beating Barcelona will keep his job secure for a long while yet. But whilst some say that the Hoops' Champions League efforts prove he is a top manager, I say their domestic ones prove that he is lucky rather than good. And he is lucky that, at this moment in time, being lucky is enough.