PAT BONNER has backed Craig Gordon to return to his best form – once Ronny Deila sorts out his defence.
The Hoops’ legendary goalkeeper insists the current custodian needs a settled formation in front of him if he is to get back to standard that also led to his international call-up.
Malmo ended Celtic’s interest in the Champions League when they scored four goals over the two legs in the final qualifier. And Ajax and Fenerbahce came back from losing positions to gain 2-2 draws in the Europa League ties.
However, Bonner believes Gordon will deserve better protection against Molde in Norway on Thursday night and that will only happen once the Celtic boss puts a consistent back four together.
Deila has fielded several different players in his rearguard during the European outings – including Mikael Lustig, Efe Ambrose, Saidy Janko, Tyler Blackett, Dedryck Boyata, Emilio Izaguirre, Charlie Mulgrew, Jozo Simunovic, Kieran Tierney and Virgil van Dijk, who is now, of course, at Southampton.
Former Republic of Ireland No.1 Bonner, who won 80 caps for his country, said: “Craig has done exceptionally well since he has come into the Celtic side after recovering from his injury.
“He has tailed off a bit this season, but that has more to do with the back four not being settled in front of him. For me, that is much more to do with it than him.
“In the main, Craig has been magnificent. Last season he certainly had a magnificent campaign. But his confidence has definitely gone down a little bit.
“But it is always difficult to build up relationships with your defence if it keeps changing. No matter who the goalkeeper is, if you don’t have a settled back four it does take its toll.
“I think Craig has been very unfortunate this year. Last year he had Jason Denayer and Virgil van Dijk there in front of him. Between Craig and the two of them Celtic had a magnificent defensive record.
“But then it changes and they are trying to find who is going to be the best combination back there. It has taken time and that, for me, is why they have lost goals this year. That is always the case.”
Bonner, whose career at Parkhead spanned 17 years, said: “Going back to when I was a player, you had Tom McAdam, Roy Aitken and myself or Mick McCarthy, Roy Aitken and myself. We were fairly settled.
“It was the same elsewhere, too. At Aberdeen, you had Jim Leighton, Willie Miller and Alex McLeish and at Dundee United, you had Hamish McAlpine, David Narey and Paul Hegarty.
“The big teams in England were exactly the same. You had Steve Bruce, Gary Pallister and Peter Schmeichel at Manchester United. It definitely benefits a team to have that continuity.
”If you have a solid back four then it makes the goalkeeper’s life much easier and they can then grow in confidence and start making good decisions.
“When the defence is constantly disrupted then it becomes a problem. I think that is what has been the issue with Celtic this season. You are never sure who is going to be playing there.”
Deila’s reliance on zonal marking at set-plays has caused consternation among the Celtic support this season due to the number of goals his side has conceded.
Bonner, now 55 and Jock Stein’s last signing for the club, added: “For me, you need a bit of balance. Mick McCarthy didn’t like picking up. He was a big rugged centre-half and wanted to go and attack the ball.
“But he got guys around about him to pick players up to allow him to do that.
“That is what you have got to get right. Whoever isn’t capable of heading has to do a job on the players who are going to attack the ball for the opposition.
“If you ask players in a certain zone to go and head it they will head maybe 60 to 80 per cent of the balls. But that still gives the opposition to the opportunity to score one or two.
“The key for me is not to let players get the run. It is up to the players. They have to stand up and become the leaders on the pitch.
“Obviously, the manager can’t run onto the pitch and do it for them. They have to take responsibility for it themselves.”