"I think you've seen that"; Celtic defender Stephen Welsh on defensive improvements under John Kennedy

By Euan Davidson

April 16, 2021

Celtic defender Stephen Welsh has hinted at a step-up in standards under John Kennedy.

The young centre-back has recently agreed a 4-year contract extension, and his progression mirrors his current boss. Both were Academy players, both were centre-halves, and both were brought in to the first-team during transitional periods for the club.

Welsh, in a press conference this afternoon, spoke of the defensive training he’s received under John Kennedy. Since the ex-defender took over from Neil Lennon, Celtic have kept a stubborn defence, led by Welsh and Norwegian Kristoffer Ajer. In 5 games under the ex-assistant, the Bhoys have conceded just one goal.

Welsh said [Celtic FC]:

“Since he’s came in, he’s put a lot of trust in me. Which helps you a lot, gives me a lot, makes it really easy to play. You know exactly what you’re doing, how he wants you to play, how he wants you to defend.

“The positional sense of the game, for the full back-four, we work on it a lot. It helps a lot, and I think you’ve seen that the last few games.

“Ever since I came up, when I was 16, 17, when [Kennedy] was coach at the time, he was very good with the young players coming through. He’s been in the same position as me, and being a defender as well, it helps a lot. The journey that he’s been on as an Academy player, you look at that and compare yourself to that.

“There’s no better ex-player to look at that, coming through as a centre-half.”

Neil Lennon and John Kennedy in the Celtic dugout / (Photo by Craig Williamson/SNS Group via Getty Images)

What does that say about John Kennedy and former Celtic boss Neil Lennon?

Asked about whether a win would help Kennedy’s long-term managerial chances, Welsh was coy. He insisted that, as a player and a supporter, he was focused entirely on a positive result.

Welsh commented:

“As you said, we give everything. 100% for the club. We know what it means to the club. I know personally what it means as a fan. So, aye, 100% going into everything. If it helps him maybe take a step forward in the job, who knows. But we’re fully focussed on Sunday and that’s it.”

Certainly, there isn’t a massive groundswell of support for John Kennedy to get the job. But already, it seems like standards have improved since the former Scotland international took over. The defence, once shaky and lacking responsibility, now looks impressive.

Our only goal conceded under Kennedy was from a set-piece. A long-term problem, no doubt, but in the matches after, we didn’t look like conceding in any situation. Scott Bain has impressed, and the young back-4 have been formidable. If there was a list of qualifications for the Celtic job, building a tight defence would surely be on there.

It raises questions about training under Neil Lennon. It seems unlikely that John Kennedy wouldn’t have been leading training, but what was stopping him working on the same defensive drills under Lennon? This isn’t a critique of the ex-boss, it’s just interesting to note that there’s been such a significant improvement at the back.

Whether Kennedy has been hamstrung and unable to implement his own training drills is a genuine question. Now he’s getting the chance to do so, the biggest test comes this weekend.

But it adds to the intrigue. There’s a school of thought that Kennedy, throughout this season, was limited by the manager and that he’s been an excellent coach this whole time. Others suggest Kennedy was just as at fault as Lennon. Perhaps we’ll never know the right answer.

However, recent performances only add to that speculation. A win on Sunday will send it into overdrive.

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