Perhaps it was because I’ve barely seen Celtic this season as most of my weekends are spent commentating. Perhaps the league table caught me off-guard, with 8 wins from 8 games. Perhaps it was sleep deprivation, combined with a portable flux capacitor and I thought I was about to watch the 2001 team. (OK, maybe not that last one.) Whatever it was, I woke up on Sunday certain we were going to witness a performance from Celtic, and that Lennon’s side would go a long way towards healing the pain of last year. What we got was more of the same.

I’ve seen a few accounts post-match, many of them hysterically blaming Willie Collum for his ridiculous penalty decision. Sure, he got that one wrong, and yes, it was a sore one to take. At 2-1 the game was wide open, but at 3-1 we needed a miracle. However, that doesn’t quite tell the whole tale.

I’m very unhappy to say this, but if I remove my green-tinted specs I will begrudgingly admit that Rangers dominated the game, and we got exactly what we deserved. Tactically, Lennon got it wrong, but he was let down by his experienced players all over the park. And it simply wasn’t good enough. Let’s look at Lennon first.

The system he picked was a head scratcher for me. Going for 4-4-2, but with Maloney and Stokes as the wide men meant we were effectively playing 4-2-4. Against a side with a 5 man midfield, we were always going to get over-run. We did.

Now there are some who may say that the system was changed early on with the Maloney injury. They’d be right, but the problem there was we still had both Samaras and Stokes playing wide. Both out-and-out strikers, neither were going to be useful in the midfield battle. Indeed, we were lucky not to lose Stokes just a couple of minutes in for a horrific challenge. Then of course we¬†persevered with Glenn Loovens at the back, and if he’s actually a professional footballer then I’m a Dutchman.

I think Lennon should have predicted the inevitable Rangers formation and looked to play with 3 central midfielders, with Ki and Juarez playing in front of the back 4, and Ledley as a ‘box-to-box’ player. At Cardiff, Ledley was renowned for getting ahead of the front men and scoring goals. The type of player we have been missing since Stan Petrov left for Aston Villa, yet I believe we are not seeing the best of him thanks to our system. He almost reminds me of Paul Hartley: a player we signed as a great attacking midfielder, yet we played him as an anchorman. Too early to tell with Ledley, but speaking as someone who watches a lot of the Championship, I thought he was wasted protecting the back four.

And now, onto Samaras. People who have ever read my posts before will know that I’m hardly the big Greek’s biggest fan. He leaves me tearing my hair out at just how frustrating he is. I just don’t know how he can be so brilliant one week, and the next he’d struggle to get a game for Lincoln City. On Sunday he was just simply abysmal.

So much time was spent screaming at him. He dallied on the ball, didn’t see simple passes, and his ball retention was¬†non-existent. There was a little drama involving Lee McCulloch in the first half, with the Rangers man lucky not be shown a second yellow. However, if Samaras had been on his game he would have slid Hooper in before McCulloch had a chance to make the challenge, got himself into the box and we may well have scored. And there were countless times he did this. Rather than taking a simple pass to slide the full back in for a cross, he tried to cut inside, or just took too long and the momentum was gone.

Then onto our defence. The first goal was an absolute shocker to concede, especially so early into the second half. All the momentum we had gained from Hooper’s goal right on half time had gone, and it was simply because we didn’t have the nous to deal with a high, hopeful cross into the area. Can you imagine that cross coming in with big Bobo back there? Or even Mjallby? (I’d suggest registering big Johan as a player again, just so we can have SOMEBODY who’ll put their body on the line at the back.) Quite simply, that kind of cross should be dealt with by Loovens and Majstorovic all day long.

And if the first goal wasn’t bad enough, the second was a real howler. I’m a firm believer in only passing the ball back to the keeper when you absolutely have to, as all they ever tend to do is boot the ball upfield. Majstorovic didn’t have to, he had time to clear the ball himself. Instead, he caused unnecessary pressure by knocking the ball back to Forster, and we all know what followed. Such a poor goal to concede, and it really knocked the stuffing out of us, and Rangers just got stronger. I’m not going to go into the penalty decision, because it has been done to death, but we were never going to come back after it.

All in all, it is more fuel to those who say that Lennon is yet to win a match “that matters”. At the moment, it’s hard to argue with them. Ross County, Braga, Utrecht and now Rangers really do take the shine off his previously unblemished league record. Fortunately, it’s a cup-tie on Wednesday and an immediate opportunity to put that right. I’d suggest that we will.

I’d also suggest that the next time we come up against Rangers we’ll be much more balanced as a side. Lennon strikes me as the sort of manager who’ll learn from tactical errors, unlike his predecessor who blindly stuck with the same players and system, even when it was blatantly failing. And despite all my negativity throughout this post, it is just three points. By the time the next derby comes around, our newer players will be even more settled, and with more experience of what it actually means to play for Celtic.

This championship is a long way from being over, and we’re right in the hunt. Keep the faith, Bhoys and Ghirls. There’s a long way to go yet.

Advertisements

OK, it’s official: I’m almost gibbering in excitement ahead of the new season. There’s nothing like opening day optimism for every fan of every club, but at Celtic there’s more reason for that than most. The fans have been keen for quality signings after the atrocity of last year, and I’m quite hopeful that Lenny has delivered.

Joe Ledley was a terrific piece of business, a player who is very highly rated and rightfully so. He’ll certainly add a new dimension to the midfield, and him and Brown have bags of potential. I’m also really pleased with the Juarez signing, a player who looks like he will add a bit of steel to a midfield too often bullied under Mowbray. However, the purchase that has really caught my eye is Gary Hooper, the 22-year-old striker from Scunthorpe.

OK, there will be doubters. The more ignorant will say ‘who are Scunthorpe?’ and dismiss him before he even arrives. I imagine in days gone bye, a section of the Liverpool support said ‘who are Chester?’ when a certain Mr Rush was signed up, too.

Others will ask why the club have brought in a player with no European experience, and whilst they may have a point, I think only the most optimistic of Celtic fans is concerned with the European adventure this year. Getting beyond Braga is difficult enough, and then we would face the likes of Tottenham, Sevilla or Sampdoria for a chance to make the Champions League itself. OK, participation in the Europa League is a likely bet, but surely that’s a perfect opportunity for Hooper to get that experience he is missing, no?

Instead, our priority has to be wrestling the championship back from Ibrox, and for that, Hooper is our man. I’m not one to kick the quality of the SPL while it is down, but we have to face facts, so I would argue two-thirds of the SPL is equivalent to the English Championship in terms of quality, with the other third similar to League One. At that kind of level, Hooper scored 50 goals in 93 games for Scunthorpe United, which suggests to me that if he plays he’ll set the SPL alight. Indeed, I think it is a monumental piece of business from the club, and being only 22, he is also one for the future.

As for Daryl Murphy, I’m afraid I need to reserve judgement. He looks like a reasonable target man, but it seems a bit ‘Chris Killen’ to me. I hope somebody points that line out to me at the end of the season after he has scored 20 goals, and I’ll happily eat some humble pie, but we’ll see. Saying that, with him signing I’d expect to see him starting the season off in the team.

As always though, when new players come in some have to leave. Hooper will be the eighth striker at Celtic Park (if you consider Maloney to be just a winger) and that figure surely needs cutting. I’d be surprised to see either Fortune or Rasmussen leave as they are new arrivals, but numbers do need to be cut. McGowan has recently signed a new contract, so I’d suggest he was safe, but that leaves Sheridan (a certainty to leave) Samaras and Hutchinson. I won’t pretend to be disappointed when Samaras leaves (the most frustrating player I have ever seen, some days brilliant, but others he’s horrendous. The phrase ‘sublime to the ridiculous’ could have been coined for him alone) but I am disappointed Hutchinson hasn’t really had a chance at Celtic.

I’m also eagerly waiting for some new defensive signings. I think there is promise in Rogne and Hooiveld, as there is in Thompson, but I’m yet to be convinced by Loovens and O’Dea. I’d hope all the money earned from the inevitable McGeady sale is pumped into the defence, with two commanding central defenders the top of the list. And of course, David James too would be a welcome addition as a short-term replacement for Boruc.

So how do we line up opening day? Truth be told, I haven’t got a clue. I can’t even put my finger on a formation, let alone a first XI, so all I can do is pick my own. For me, it has to be 4-3-3 to utilise the talent at our disposal, with the central striker as a target man, Fortune out wide right and the third striker as a ‘poacher’, so here goes.

————————–James———————–

Cha——-Rogne——–Hooiveld———Mulgrew

———————–Juarez———————-

———-Brown (c)—————Ledley——-

—–Fortune——–Murphy——Hooper——

All I know for certain is there cannot possibly be any less heart in this year’s team than was on display under Mowbray and that is the first step to winning anything. Now, if only we could find another Lubo…