He certainly brought much needed height with him but couldn’t be regarded as anything like the finished article. His development was probably seen at the time as one of featuring in reserve friendlies and bounce games. But with the defensive crisis in full swing Thompson took to the field for the first team replacing McManus who limped off against Falkirk in mid January.
With Caldwell gone and McManus choosing to go on loan to Middlesbrough Thompson began to feature more and more out of necessity rather than choice. Ten days after replacing McManus he made his full debut against St Johnstone and did a commendable job alongside firstly Loovens who ended up injured and O’Dea.
Thompson produced a number of solid performances in a season which was getting more and more painful to endure and with most of his defensive colleagues lying on treatment tables. While he lacked the pace sometimes required he went about his job in an unflustered manner and doubling the number of appearances he had made at his previous club, Stockport.
Thompson’s presence brought something which we rarely saw under Caldwell and McManus and that was his ability to play the first time pass without needing two or three touches which allowed the opposition to get all their men behind the ball. Some may think this was Thompson playing with a hot potato but the need to move the ball quickly from the back is something which is much needed in any Celtic defender playing against SPL opponents.
At the other end of the park Thompson managed to put away 3 goals. His first was a header from a free kick in the home win against St Johnstone and he followed this up a few weeks later by netting both goals in the 2-1 win over Motherwell. Again he had gone up for two set pieces and when the ball fell to him on both occasions he firmly stuck the ball in the back of the net with his right boot.
Thompson’s inclusion in the Celtic Underground Season’s Top 10 may prove to be a one off with other players returning from fitness and the talk of the likes of Sol Campbell being on Celtic’s wanted list for next season. However there is no reason why Josh cannot push on to command a more regular first team place if he works on some aspects of his game. Firstly, he needs to work on his pace. This is something which he can improve on with the help of the sports scientists at the club. Secondly, he needs an experienced central defender working with him each day in training showing him the wee things needed in a players mind to combat opponents effectively.
Ironically, Campbell, a defender not blessed with pace himself, could be just the player to be that mentor to Thompson. Campbell’s game has been built around good anticipation and seeing a move early in order to make a well timed tackle or go with the attacking runner.
So while some supporters have been harsh on Thompson he should deserve praise for responding to the defensive injury crisis and putting in some solid performances. Celtic have been at their lowest points in many years this season and it’s admirable that a young 19 year old operating in a key position for the team didn’t unduly let himself or Celtic down. It was also good to see him being part of the rejuvenated Celtic at the end of the season although Neil Lennon clearly recognised some of his inexperience by leaving him out of the final huns game.
Josh Thompson needs a good summer break now to reflect on his contributions for Celtic followed by a more stable pre-season. If he can address the things I’ve mentioned about the parts of his game which he needs to improve then we could be seeing more of the boy next season.