We have complained an awful lot about Celtic this season.
Often, football journalists, specifically ones that cover Celtic, face a conundrum. For Celtic supporters in fan-run media, it’s particularly tough when things are bad. Of all the people in the world who want to write negative stories about Celtic, we’re the very last on any list.
Unfortunately, there have been so many issues on and off the pitch that it’s been unavoidable at times. There’s no agenda, no jiggery-pokery, we just all expect more from this club. It’s our job, as supporters, to push for higher standards. Standards set by Celtic in the recent past.
That’s why it’s equally important to give praise where it’s due. At this very moment in time, Celtic are deserving of praise. It may be too little, far, far too late, but the Bhoys have navigated an incredibly robust schedule with total aplomb. Let’s look at the positives.
5 wins, 3 clean sheets for Celtic
Absolutely, Celtic need to improve the defence in the summer. Our ability to throw away matches with daft fouls and slapstick defending has been our undoing this season, and there’s no doubt about that.
But we should take a great deal of encouragement from recent performances. In five matches, the Bhoys have kept three clean sheets, and have only conceded twice. That’s a marked improvement from the doldrums of our calamitous patches.
Yes, admittedly, it’s as much by accident as it is design. And yes, it’s more than a little overdue. However, if Welsh and Ajer’s ascending partnership and Bain’s relative solidity can be continued, the rest of the season looks far better. We’re going to outscore any Scottish opposition on our day; keeping it tidy at the back is crucial.
Has Neil Lennon stumbled upon this defensive formula? Admittedly, the plan of a back 3 with Jullien, Ajer and Duffy fell apart for a number of reasons. Chief among them was Duffy’s unfortunate time at Celtic. The litany of personal problems he’s had to deal with off the pitch have undoubtedly been a factor, and we should be careful of being over-critical, as frustrating as his performances have been.
Still, we’ve found a centre-back for the future in Welsh, and Ajer continues to impress. We’re looking harder to beat. That’s a good thing.
Key young players have emerged
Again, this is all probably far too late. Regardless, the performances of Greg Taylor (still only 23 [Transfermarkt]), the aforementioned Welsh, as well as Soro and Turnbull, mean the future’s brighter than we might’ve thought.
Ismaila Soro has been the exception to the rule of our recent recruitment. While his January 2020 signing counterpart Patryk Klimala still needs time, Soro has burst into prominence. He’s possibly the best young player in the league this season. Just ahead of him on the pitch, David Turnbull has rightly earned plaudits.
These are uniformly good things. There is a hell of a lot to be said about Celtic squandering young talents, and the exodus of academy talents is a problem in itself.
In Welsh, Soro and Turnbull, the spine of the Celtic team in the future looks incredibly promising. We may have taken one step back in terms of league success this season, but our most talented youngsters are making gigantic strides and becoming automatic picks for Neil Lennon.
Celtic are winning ugly, but it’s much-needed
Have Celtic been incredible to watch recently? No, absolutely not.
However, winning ugly is a necessity. Johan Cryuff’s Holland teams were wonderful to watch, but they never won a World Cup. Aesthetics, and playing “the Celtic Way” are important, yes. But with every league title in the 9IAR stretch, it hasn’t always been the prettiest from a Celtic point of view.
When we start winning titles again in the near future, they’ll be won off the back of ugly victories like the Aberdeen game last night [BBC], as much as the games with 25-pass moves and Rabona crosses [Daily Record].
Learning to shut out opposition and grinding out wins is just as important as all of the attractive stuff. I realise that may sound like heresy to supporters who enthuse about attacking football, but it’s true. In games where Celtic have drawn or lost, we’re instead picking up 3 points. That’s vital.
None of this means everything is A-OK, but some credit is due
Obviously, none of this means Lennon should be our manager next season. We haven’t U-turned on that, and it would take something utterly seismic to do so.
It also doesn’t mean that the board are suddenly blameless. Make no mistake, we could’ve made history this year, and the PLC bottled it in every conceivable manner.
Change is coming, and even more change is sorely needed. But does that mean we should become apathetic while the Bhoys are on a winning streak? Do positive results no longer matter, regardless of context?
I don’t think so. So, from home, let’s get behind these players. Yes, the title looks out of reach, but if you don’t have hope, there’s no point watching.