I would certainly say that the negatives from Sunday were those particular to a team in transition and that at the start of a season. What we’ve benefitted from in the first three wins of the season has been attacking players that are performing- Maloney, Samaras, Fortune and McCourt – but all of whom are noted for their spells of under-achieving related to their talent.
I thought the last two games reflected particularly badly on Fortune. When he has the space in behind the left back he can be so exhilarating in turning the full-back and tearing into space, but when Utrecht and St Mirren played deeper it forced him to make decisions on what to do when in the last third of the right wing and often his decisions were poor. Dithering when an easy pass was on and after his superb run when he beat two players with class he shot when rolling to Samaras would have guaranteed a goal.
Samaras was also guilty of poor decision-making oftentimes – as at ICT he took an extra touch for a bye-kick when squaring it for Forrest would have guaranteed 3-0. However, both players assisted in a goal and Maloney scored and played a couple of visionary through-balls in particular. His pass to Brown who then passed it to the keeper-was superb from where I sat, but he tired and wasn’t at the level he reached at Inverness.
This fall-off in form from the collected individuals playing three of four front positions wasn’t worrying in itself, but I felt it foreshadowed how this team could suffer if the star number 7 we anticipate doesn’t materialise.
None of the four players I focussed on has proved to be a star individual so we can’t expect that over the course of the season. None of them have shown the mental strength commensurate with their talent to carry a team for a hard month between December and February if it isn’t clicking for the rest of the team. Equally, putting similar expectation on Forrest is asinine at his age. His form will dip and we can’t expect anything else so we should support him as he bursts on to the scene as much as when he fades in the hope he will learn, regroup and continue to develop.
So the St Mirren game was successful in part because of the attacking players, but perhaps they didn’t excel in the way that previous teams have relied on their own Henrik, Hartson, etc.
So what went so right that the football was so exciting?
I though the full-backs’ performances were key. The two full-backs today won’t normally play full-back. Most of our attacks relied on Ledley, Majstorovic and Juarez’s ability on the ball, with their first-touch often being a good pass from defence that turned the play and set us forward. However, we have seen Juarez make a name for himself attacking from the middle of the park and Thursday will be Ledley’s last game at left-back with Izaguirre coming into the team and Mulgrew regaining fitness. Ledley would only have signed for us on the promise that he will play centre-midfield and Kayal will be the victim of this agreement, leaving the side for the increasingly-impressive Brown to continue playing in front of the defence from a deep-right position that he looks increasingly comfortable in (he even keeps passing to Celtic players).
St Mirren found themselves outclassed by Juarez and Ledley’s performances today but they aren’t going to play there when they move back to the positions they were obviously signed for. Ledley doesn’t even want to play on the left wing never mean left-back. Their overlapping and the accuaracy of passing they brought down the wings today brought to mind Jonathon Wilson’s fussing over the importance of full-backs in international and European football (which can increasingly be read as the contemporary 4-2-3-1 that Lennon seems to be developing). When we revert to players without their ability I think our attacking will be curtailed.
I would bet my life Izaguirre is a better defender than Ledley but also that he does not have the passing ability or cool in the attacking third that brought the finish to our first goal today. Similarly, while Cha is enthusiastic, fast as a player can be and seemingly pretty durable, he does not have Juarez’ vision with a pass, first touch or attacking delivery that seemed effortless today at times. He is adequate where Juarez was excellent. Ledley and Juarez return to the middle of the park and our erratic attacking-players will lose form.
I was thrilled at times on Sunday but I don’t think this panache will be sustainable with the current squad. Part of it was a happy accident. The stye of the team, so evident today, ironically will suffer when balance is restored and this makes it so important to fill the number 7 shirt with a talent that can be relied on to dig us out of Fir Park winter potholes. I also concede that Hooper as a target and fulcrum for the attack is as yet unproven but until he gets an extended run he will reamin just that – promising but unproven.
This is not a criticism of Lennon because, from what he says, I think he is seeing the same things I have outlined and bottom line, in terms of entertainment, Celtic 4, St Mirren 0 was a joyous spectacle. I would think that as many of us as not enjoyed applauding the not-scoring-but-hitting-the-