Neil Lennon has to get it right tomorrow; there's one Celtic error he can't afford to make

By Euan Davidson

December 12, 2020

For Celtic, there is no acceptable option but to beat Kilmarnock tomorrow.

With Rangers opening up a comfortable lead at the top of the Premiership, albeit having played two games more, the Bhoys have be on it every week. That starts with beating Alex Dyer’s Killie side at Celtic Park on Sunday, 13th December.

To do that, he’ll need to make one very big call: drop Scott Brown, play Ismaila Soro.

We’re not into criticising Scott Brown on this website nor are we calling him a taxi from Parkhead. It’s just that, in the here and now, our captain has to get a rest. Soro should come into the team instead, for continuity’s sake.

Celtic midfielder Ismaila Soro / (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

Soro’s big performance

Fine, it was only one game. But it was our most recent game.

Against Lille, Soro bossed the middle of the park, keeping the French side’s impressive midfield quiet throughout. His tackling was outstanding, building play through the middle via quick, clean challenges and impressive ball movement.

Making an outstanding 10 tackles and completing 79% of his passes (WhoScored?), Soro’s defensive midfield display allowed Callum McGregor and David Turnbull to play with freedom, getting into good positions and keeping the attacking side of Celtic’s game ticking over.

Turnbull was also impressive, but with Ryan Christie, Tom Rogic and Olivier Ntcham running hot and cold, the probability of the ex-Motherwell man playing is higher. With Soro, it’s a genuine debate.

For weeks, we’ve been clamouring for the Ivorian youngster to get a run in the team. Now with fans getting behind the cause, the choice seems simple for Neil Lennon: play the former Bnei Yehuda man against Kilmarnock.


Scott Brown, Scott Brown, he’s the leader of the Celtic / (Photo by Andrea Bruno Diodato/DeFodi Images via Getty Images)

Hold on, though.

Neil Lennon may wish to repay the faith showed in him by our captain, though. Scott Brown has repeatedly backed Lenny through weeks of protest, uncertainty and poor performances.

If Lennon plays Soro, it could be interpreted as a changing of the guard. It shouldn’t, because it’s literally the second game in a row he might pick the Ivorian. Still, there’ll be plenty of unpleasant reading for Broony on Monday morning if he’s dropped for this crucial league meeting.

I doubt there’s anyone in the Celtic support who doesn’t think Scott Brown will start the Scottish Cup Final. He’s the captain, and it’s one of our biggest games ever. People aren’t talking about the significance of our Hampden showdown with Hearts enough, for my liking. It’s a massive deal.

Lennon will use his most trusted confidantes for that fixture.

Against Kilmarnock, though, Soro is best equipped to carry out Neil Lennon’s actual tactical style. Yes, he has one. He likes his midfielders to be direct, with overlapping wingers distracting opposition full-backs. That’s exactly what we got against Lille, it’s the way Lenny’s always preferred it, and with Scott Brown, he doesn’t get it.

It’s not that Scott Brown isn’t good any more. We wouldn’t suggest that in the slightest. He is 35, though. Inevitably, he will lose yards of pace as he gets older. His decision making hasn’t been quite as good this year though, and that’s the real issue. He’s been late in the tackle, quicker to cede possession and slower in general.


Ismaila Soro on the day he joined Celtic / (Photo by Craig Foy / SNS Group via Getty Images)

Our verdict: the Ivorian has to start

Believe it or not, modern football allows substitutions to take place. It’s not like, in the unlikely event Soro isn’t doing it, he can’t be replaced during the match.

Therefore, Lennon should start the man in form, and that’s Ismaila Soro. In fact, he’d do well to pick the exact same midfield as he did on Thursday. Next to him, Callum McGregor should keep his place, while the electric David Turnbull should be able to cause Alex Dyer’s men plenty of problems.

My esteemed colleague John McGinley’s predicted XI is here for your delection. Funnily enough, we’re in agreement. The fans are behind it, the pundits are behind it. Lennon’s got to pick Soro, or he’ll face another supporter revolt.

That’s something he can ill-afford at this stage. Excuse a saccharine moment here, but honestly? We just want to see Lenny smiling at full-time again. Picking the XI the fans want will be key to him being able to do that.