CELTIC conceded their FIFTEENTH goal in seven games when Declan Gallagher’s header swept behind Scott Bain to cut the champions’ advantage to just one at Fir Park on Sunday.
There were still 18 minutes left to play, but, thankfully, Mohamed Elyounoussi completed his hat-trick with a soaring header a few moments later and substitute Olivier Ntcham rolled in the fourth to cement a crucial 4-1 triumph.
However, the keeper and the defence again took criticism as the Motherwell central defender, who was once on the Parkhead club’s books, joined the recent goalscorers against the Hoops’ leaky defence.
Vasilis Barkas, the club’s most expensive keeper in history after his £4.5million arrival from AEK Athens in the summer, was the man in charge when Steven Gerrard’s Ibrox side won 2-0 in the east end of Glasgow on October 17. The Greek international was clearly slow to react to Connor Goldson’s close-range cushioned header that opened the way to the loss of three vital points.
OOPS…Vasilis Barkas allows Connor Goldson’s header to slip past him in the derby.
It was the same story when AC Milan took the lead with a header in the 3-1 Europa League Group H win at Parkhead a few days later. Barkas was missing for the trip to Pittodrie for the Premiership encounter the following weekend with manager Neil Lennon claiming the netminder had a back injury.
Bain took over and conceded three – two from Lewis Ferguson penalty-kicks – as Aberdeen claimed a stoppage-time 3-3 draw. The former Dundee shotstopper got the nod to face Lille in France with Barkas on the substitutes’ bench and saved a first-half spot-kick, but couldn’t prevent the home side from snatching a 2-2 draw after the visitors had led 2-0 with an excellent double from Mohamed Elyounoussi.
And it was the ex-Scotland international keeper – who had been third in the pecking order last term behind Fraser Forster and Craig Gordon – who kept the club’s first shut-out since the 2-0 victory over St Johnstone on October 4 when the holders beat Derek McInnes’ Dons 2-0 in the delayed Scottish Cup semi-final to book a place in the silverware showdown with Hearts on December 20 where Lennon’s men have the opportunity to seal the phenomenal quadruple treble.
However, the roof fell in on Bain and his dithering defenders as Sparta Prague inflicted one of the most embarrassing results in the Hoops’ history as they triumphed 4-1 at Parkhead in a Europa League romp where there were cries of heads must roll from the raging fans.
Shane Duffy, with his confidence shredded, was left out of the starting line-up for the trip to Fir Park where Lennon ordered his team to be switched on at all times when they were facing set-plays. Alarmingly, the ball travelled a fair distance in the air from Liam Polworth’s left-wing free-kick and Gallagher, who had been getting away with some mountaineering by lenient ref Andrew Dallas, got a clean jump on Nir Bitton to direct a header across Bain into his far corner.
To most TV onlookers, the goalie looked slow in getting across his line and images show he may have been too close to his left-hand post while the ball was airborne which allowed the defender a huge chunk of his goal to aim at.
UP IN THE AIR…Scott Bain is close to his left-hand post as Well’s Declan Gallagher sends in his header.
ON ITS WAY…Bain scrambles across his line as the effort heads for the opposite corner.
BACK OF THE NET…Bain slides across his line in vain as Gallagher’s header hits the target.
Former Celtic custodian John Fallon, who was Ronnie Simpson’s stand-by during the glorious and ultimately successful European Cup run of 1967, is quick to defend the current keepers.
The 80-year-old who was at Parkhead from 1958 to 1971 believes Bain and Barkas must get back to basics and, speaking to The Scotsman, said: “Both Ronnie and I were told by Jock that any ball, not just in the six-yard box, but in the vicinity of seven, eight, nine yards out, we had to defend.
“It wasn’t the case that we were expected to snap up every one, that wouldn’t be possible. But we had to follow one of three courses of action: we had to grab it, punch it, or get ourselves into the mix by using our bodies and arms to stop opponents being allowed clean headers.
“Keepers can still make their presence felt. How often do you see a penalty given for a challenge by them on an attacker?”
Fallon exonerates Bain of any error of judgement for Well’s goal at the weekend. He said: “The free-kick travels a good 40 yards before Gallagher makes contact about nine yards out. That would give plenty of time for Bain to judge – and be sure of, the trajectory.
“As it is, he was wrongly blamed by some Celtic fans because the header beats him right in at his far corner. Yet, in staying on his line, which I’m sure is the expectation, his positioning was perfect as he made sure he guarded his near post.
“Confusing me is what I see from Celtic keepers in warm-ups. They have a variety of shots hit straight into them and then they come and catch shots that are crossed in from wide areas. Why do they do that, practise that, when they never come for exactly those sort of balls during games?”
SAFE HANDS…John Fallon leaps above Rangers striker Willie Johnston during Celtic’s 4-0 Scottish Cup Final victory in 1969.
Fallon insists Bain and Barkas appear physically equipped to come off their line to deal with aerial threats and continued: “I know Bain isn’t the biggest when it seems every keeper has to be at least 6ft 5ins – as Barkas is – but I remember him in his Dundee days and he would meet crosses at the edge of his six-yard area.
“And I may be wrong, but I am sure Barkas was doing so in his early Celtic appearances.”
The former Hoops No.1 added: “If in doubt, blame the keeper seems to be the first thought. Barkas isn’t seen as making a good start to his Celtic career, but how much can he be directly blamed for any goals lost?
“He was the star man in a 5-0 win at Ross County. It is the same for Bain. Every keeper will make a few really costly errors, but I haven’t seen those from either man this season.
“Not that you would know the way the support are judging them.”
Despite Fallon’s endorsement of the current men in charge of the gloves, the Celtic fans remain unconvinced.
There is already talk of the club attempting to persuade Forster, who hasn’t made a first-team appearance for Southampton this season, to return in January on loan. That is highly unlikely.
Lennon’s No.1 problem is finding a last line of defence he can trust for the rest of a crucial campaign with so much history up for grabs. He is aware he needs a consistent, composed and confident performer between the sticks, someone whose name will be the first on his team sheet each matchday.
The focus is on Bain or Barkas to provide the answer. Quite literally, the solution is in their hands.