Kelvin Wilson joined the ranks of Celtic defenders who can’t clear a ball properly. Against Inverness last season it was Dan Majstorovic and his headers to dangerous positions, this time it was a kicked clearance that didn’t make it out of the 18 yard box and landed at the feet of a Rangers attacker. Since both Caldwell and McManus used to clear the ball straight up in the air, by my reckoning the last Celtic player that could properly clear the ball was Bobo Balde. Oh how I miss those headers out of the box that would cross the half way line.
Meanwhile he was playing along side Glenn Loovens. Two years ago I watched Loovens get muscled off the ball by Kenny Miller and as far as I was concerned that was game over for him at Celtic. But he’s still here, and this time he was up against the bigger Jelavic. He never stood a chance, even if he has mastered the art of jumping backwards at corners. Two games in a row now he’s done that as a striker has come flying in to bulleted a header into our goal. Falcao on Thursday, Jelavic on Sunday.
Is that his fault though, or the stupid zonal marking system that has our defenders line up along the six yard line? The replays of their second goal allowed some great analysis. Whether you prefer zonal or man marking at set pieces, that style of zonal is easy to breach and now everyone’s seen it this week. Mind you, when the ball goes in the centre of the goal, how much blame should the goalkeeper take? I dunno, I fancy it shouldn’t get to that stage and Forster has been badly let down by the men in front of him. But still, maybe he should get them. The odd dodgy punch that went unpunished can be forgiven, especially when the clown at the other end has his regular howler in a more spectacular manner than usual.
Maybe Mulgrew should have played in the centre with Wilson. Whether or not that would have made a difference we’ll never know, but putting him in midfield weakened our options at the back. El Kaddouri did okay at left back, but even he was at it with the stupid passbacks – it was his that Lafferty missed. More importantly, El Kaddouri did score, and didn’t get booked.
Which brings me to the next point. Taking El Kaddouri off and putting Mulgrew at left back when he was already on a booking AND going around acting like he wasn’t was madness. If you could make a case for Lennon’s other decisions, the fact that Mulgrew is taller than El Kaddouri is a very small issue – if you’ll pardon the pun – by comparison to keeping 11 men on the park. Okay, so Mulgrew should take full responsibility for lunging in on countless occasions and inviting the second booking, but the manager had plenty of opportunity to deal with it when it was clear he wasn’t going to stop. But no, Lennon’s defence was that Mulgrew had got the ball. Sorry, but he was walking a tightrope for some time, and that tackle got the top of the ball he was so high. Seemed more like luck than judgement that he got anything on it. Sticking with Mulgrew though…
As I said already, Mulgrew wouldn’t have been in my midfield. Not only did it weaken our defence, I think it weakened our midfield too. Look at the Motherwell game last week and you’ll see that our goals came because Hooper and Stokes linked up with Forrest. We ripped them apart with neat, accurate, quick passing. With Stokes already sidelined as an injury doubt, why drop Forrest as well? He’s quite a strong boy, I’m sure he can handle the inevitable booting up and down the park that he’d get. If not, he’ll get plenty of free kicks for Mulgrew to deliver.
But the biggest problem in our midfield was in the centre of it. Ki and Kayal were practically anonymous. Personally, I’ve thought Ki has been anonymous for weeks. Other than that goal against Dundee United he has offered nothing since the first leg against Sion. In fact, he cost us two goals and a man in the second leg against Sion by conceding possession easily – Majstorovic’s challenge may have been epicly stupid, but he should never have been in that position in the first place. Ki has kept his place in the team by living on past glories, not because he’s in form currently.
The same can be said for Kayal. He’s had a quiet start to the season, possibly due to injuries, but he’s not the one I’d drop. We have yet to see last season’s best partnership of Kayal and Ledley in the centre of midfield. Ki’s presence there has pushed Ledley out wide in the games all three have played, and that wastes Ledley’s abilities. Given the difference between our midfield performances in January and on Sunday at Ibrox, I think it’s glaringly obvious what Ledley offers now.
What of the Captain? Well, I don’t think Brown did too badly. He was another doubt for the match but I think the gamble to play him was one of the things Lennon got right. The pass for Hooper’s equaliser proves it, it was exquisite. Mind you he did try that again in the second half and played it straight to a Rangers defender. But while the middle of midfield was missing, Brown was hassling up until the point he started hobbling. If there’s a criticism regarding Brown then it’s that he stayed on the park too long carrying that knock. I wonder how long he’ll be out now because of that.
Given a bad defence and a missing midfield, it’s hard to say much about the attack. They fed on scraps after all. Hooper’s goal was one Henrik would have been proud of – it was going wide until the last second it was so perfectly placed. Samaras and Hooper did link up well for one move in the first half that saw an early strike from Samaras that he never caught properly, but that’s one of the few times I’ve seen the two of them link up well in any game. It doesn’t happen often. The first half also had one incident that showed precisely why Samaras is so frustrating. He made a run, didn’t get the pass, stopped in an offside position while we still had possession, then was hit by Hooper’s shot. He might be individually gifted, but as team players go he’s dire.
So what now for Lennon? McCoist beat him as far as the half time team talks went, that much was clear. It was like the first derby of last season – we went in with a goal lead but never came back out and were punished for it. It’s not just at half time though that Neil needs to up his game. Going forward it’s time he made the hard decisions.
Commons was moaning on twitter about not knowing why he’d been dropped, but that was quickly followed up by suggesting that he was going to work hard to get back to last season’s levels. Someone must have told him why he’d been dropped then, because I didn’t have a problem with that decision. Good luck to him on that, I’d happily see the old Commons back. In the meantime, Forrest should get his place back, and he should be linking up with Stokes and Hooper like against Motherwell. They two should always be our front two unless there’s an injury. It shouldn’t change just because we’re playing someone who might be better than the average SPL opposition.
Ki has to be next for the drop, and Ledley has to get his place back. Mind you, maybe Brown will be out injured for a bit and delay that decision for a bit. Although even then I wouldn’t be pushing Ledley out of the centre, nor would I be sure I wouldn’t be given someone else a run – Paddy McCourt perhaps? Putting Wanyama in there wouldn’t work as you’d still be forcing someone out wide that shouldn’t be there – unless you give him a run in the team instead of Kayal. Maybe if the Kayal-Ledley partnership doesn’t show signs of returning then I’d do that, but a stay of execution for Kayal is perhaps required for a short time.
As for the defence? I wrote some predictions for The LostBhoys at the start of the season and even then I feared our defence would be shown up as frail in Europe. I just didn’t expect it to be a nightmare against Rangers too. Either way, we’re stuck with what we have, and what we have is very little apparently. We need some big performances from those individuals over the coming weeks if faith is to be restored in them. And that goes for more than just the defence. The midfield need to get back to what they were capable of last season. Only then can we expect the likes of Hooper to get more than just a sniff – even if he does take advantage of it when it comes.
Neil Lennon had this team and the support united just a few months ago. The knee jerk reactions after yesterday show that the fans are fractured once more – with some loud, angry voices calling for heads to roll while other, calmer voices just want lessons to be learned – and the team just aren’t clicking like we know they can. But if Neil can fix that side of things, the fans will fall back into place. We just need to have faith that he can do it.