Anthony Ralston was given his big chance down the right for Celtic yesterday, and unfortunately, he failed his big audition.
There were plenty of subplots to go with the 2-1 victory over the Jambos yesterday. Karamoko Dembele’s impressive debut stole the show, whilst Mikey Johnston staked his claim to be part of the Scottish Cup final team next weekend.
But one of the more obscure subplots was the opportunity Ralston had on his hands. It was his first appearance since the 3-0 win over Airdrieonians back in mid-January. It was also just his fifth outing of the season.
Any appearance for a young player at Celtic is of unreal significance. But the right-back situation at Parkhead just now made Ralston’s outing even more vital for him.
Mikael Lustig, Cristian Gamboa, and Jeremy Toljan all look likely to leave the club. The former two are out of contract, whilst Toljan’s loan spell comes to an end. That’s three right-backs potentially heading out the door.
So what an opportunity it was for Ralston at Parkhead yesterday. An opportunity to stake his claim for a shot at being Celtic’s number one right-back next season. Unfortunately, however, he just wasn’t impressive enough.
Ralston was too easily beaten by Jake Mulraney on a couple of occasions. Added to that, his crossing when he did go on the overlap was a tad disappointing. What makes it even more frustrating is that we all know Ralston is capable of better. He’s actually already scored for Celtic this season too in the 3-0 win over Motherwell back in December.
Work still needs done on Ralston
But the gauntlet was thrown down to the youngster yesterday. He had been plying his trade in the Reserve League over the last couple of months, working away quietly as he waited on a first-team return. Yesterday he got it, but he just didn’t make the most of the chance.
You have to wonder whether Ralston falls into the bracket that Celtic’s Head of Youth Development Chris McCart touched on. McCart spoke in the Scotsman last month about leaving the Reserve League. He highlighted the fact that too many players are above reserve level, but not yet good enough for Celtic’s first-team.
Nothing would fit Ralston more than that description. And you have to imagine what the next step is for him.
Another loan spell would perhaps be wise. His last stint on loan came at Dundee United in the Scottish Championship, as he made 15 appearances and featured in the Premiership playoffs. But now it should be time for Celtic to see how he competes week-in, week-out in the Premiership.
This is by no means the end for Ralston at Parkhead. He’s only 20, but at the same time, he needs consistent game-time to keep developing.
Yesterday was his big chance to prove he could get that game-time at Celtic. Unfortunately, he just didn’t take it.