In the aftermath of the, albeit crushing defeat, several internet Celtic supporters embarrassed themselves by arguing falsified views that Neil Lennon is unable to win matches when it counts, and even worse, called for the manager to be replaced. The same folk were deafened by the silence when wonderful football outplayed Rangers four times in eight weeks, keeping clean sheets and winning three of those encounters. Reactionary behaviour cannot function in the midst of success, and yet the imbalance that comes with such extreme swings of attitude ensures that whilst the victory may taste all the sweeter, the loss of perspective means that the idea that football is intrinsically a series of poetic and painstaking moments fused together at disparate parts to create a season of high drama. Winning every match, for all its obvious on the surface joys, removes a large part of football’s charm. This charm was severely tested in the depths of the perceived highland despair.
Part of the success on the pitch has been the introduction of Kris Commons. The New Year derby win aside, Commons’ arrival has seen a shift in tactics that has allowed him to, in essence, have a free role within a wide position. Izzaguirre’s energy on the left has contributed to this, allowing Commons to drift inside because the cover is there with a high pressing left back.
A successful component in this system has been Brown’s ability to be a central midfield player in a wide position. The old notion that a 4-4-2 system should be played with two pacy wingers whose sole job is to supply crosses into the box is an out-dated one. The midfield, post-Christmas, has been balanced and effective. Brown drifting inside, like Commons, gives greater responsibility to the right back, and when this works, Wilson is left free as Brown drags the opposition left back out of position. However, as we saw in the league cup final, when opponents’ set up their teams to counteract your threats, the system is flawed somewhat, especially with two strikers.
Tactically, Lennon has been excellent for most of the season, but the Caley game exposed the more gung-ho side to his system, especially with Maloney and Commons out wide. Maloney offers little protection to either the central midfield or the full back, meaning that others are uncertain how to position themselves. The shambolic defensive display cannot be blamed on anyone other than the midfield, but the domino effect created by an imbalance in the middle of the park resulted in full backs pushing too high to join in with the midfield that was being stifled by five highland hackers. This, much to our immediate anger and sadness, resulted in a shambolic second half display.
With the bitter blow that Kayal has joined Ledley in being out for the season, options appear somewhat limited. At this stage of the season, continuity reigns over a new system, so don’t be surprised to see Maloney, Ki, Brown and Commons as the quartet against Kilmarnock, especially as Killie were unable to handle the high tempo pressure and wide play in the previous game.
However, an alternative could be to bring in the forgotten man, Juarez, to sit alongside Ki. This will enable Brown and Commons to tuck in slightly, allowing the full backs to maintain the attacking approach without a sense of fear. Kayal and Ledley are a huge loss, but Celtic still has the quality to overcome the next three opponents. Stokes’ suspension raises another dilemma, because a temptation could be to play the flexible 4-5-1 formation that can become a 4-3-3, but this will bring Brown back into the centre where he seems to struggle at times. Maloney and Hooper may be the chosen pair, with either Forrest to start out wide or even Juarez in the centre.
Whatever the formation, the intense fear that infiltrated the team against Caley can be lifted. The title can now only be thrown away by Rangers, and it is up to them to handle the pressure, admittedly against opponents which won’t show the same level of motivation that Terry Butcher’s side managed to save for a meaningless game for them.
Lastly, for all those Celtic fans that infiltrated twitter with damning words of negativity, I do not wish to patronise, but merely reaffirm my own beliefs. Celtic is far more than what happens on the park. Winning the title, especially this season, will be a monumental achievement against such hatred and hysteria. Yet, it is not the greatest triumph in the same manner that the Inverness defeat was not the lowest despair. Maybe it is because Celtic are only my second footballing love and can sometimes step back and look in, but Celtic truly are a wonderful club, full of rich history and richer ethics. Being a Celtic supporter transcends the boundaries of winning and losing, it brings people together from a plethora of backgrounds in a way that no other club can. To be part of Celtic is to be truly part of something unique and special. The greatest triumph for a Celtic supporter is the club itself, and from the darkness of defeat comes the rising sun of victory. The title is still possible, and we will continue to be faithful through and through, even after every heart shattering defeat.