I always support a manager who wants to freshen the team up and keep his squad motivated, as Neil Lennon did last night. Some of you will remember how Martin O’Neill steadfastly refused to utilise his squad, sticking to the tried and tested 13-or-so players. Patryk Klimala needed to start a game and last night was as good a time as any. We saw good things from Hatem Elhamed last season, enough to suggest this term’s performances can be improved upon.
Better to try things when you have options on the bench against St Mirren, than when you are out of alternatives and need a performance, so I have no complaints about the line-up.
The St Mirren goal was another dark moment defensively. Shaughnessy lost his fellow Irish central defender, Shane Duffy. Shaughnessy’s near-post header fell at the feet of Erwin, whose attempt to trap the ball ended in the net. Including the keeper, Celtic had a 7 v 4 player overload, but still lost the first and second balls.
This is an ominous sign. Three of the four non-penalty goals we have conceded this season have been from set-pieces into the box, on each occasion we lost the first and second balls. We are out of the Champions League as a consequence and will continue to pay a price until this is sorted.
You can expect every team in the Premiership to play for free kicks and corners until this is resolved.
Attacking set-pieces, we look as imperious as we look weak defending. You could be forgiven for concluding that we attack the ball more effectively than we block opponents, so should therefore consider a zonal strategy….. Just a thought.
Shane Duffy saw off the challenge from St Mirren’s other Irish central defender, McCarthy, before heading his second goal in consecutive matches. This could be the season of set-pieces. If so, we had better improve penalty kick taking. Odsonne Edouard’s effort was underpowered and nowhere near the post. It is another area for the practice fields.
While James Forrest rightly gets credit for his excellent headed goal, the game was won on the back of two Ryan Christie crosses that fell between defenders and the goalkeeper. Neither Duffy nor Forrest needed to jump to make connection with an inch-perfect ball. If delivery from our wide players was as good, we would be significantly more effective. But it’s not….
Happy, though I was, to see the starting line-up shuffled, I was crying out for Jeremie Frimpong to come on well before his 80th minute appearance. Frimpong is alone in his ability in this squad to run at people. This tribute is not crucial to every game, but when he came on, he turned the St Mirren defenders, often resulting in a free kick high up the field.
Lots to ponder in the three weeks ahead.