Celtic v St Johnstone: 3 decisions Lennon must make to gain momentum
Celtic face St. Johnstone in a Scottish Premiership Hell in a Cell match tomorrow.
Simply put, Neil Lennon has to lead the Bhoys to victory in a ring-fenced Celtic Park. Matches like these are vital if we’re to have any realistic hope of catching Rangers at the top of the league.
St. Johnstone are on a decent run of form, fresh off a convincing 2-1 win over Motherwell last weekend (BBC). Hendry and Wotherspoon were on hand to seal a win for the Perth side, who have only lost once in their last 6 games.
Picking up 3 victories during that time, Callum Davidson’s men are in a confident mood.
After Celtic’s bizarre if not unexpected loss to A.C. Milan on Thursday, tired legs need rest. Neil Lennon has big calls to make for Sunday’s clash.
Here are three things the Celtic boss can do to secure victory.
Rotate midfield, rest Brown
During a 12 minute cameo on Thursday, the Ivorian was tidy in possession and provided energy in the midfield. Stephen Craigan recently pointed out that Scott Brown needs rest, and he was bang on. Soro should come in.
In fact, we’d like to see sweeping midfield changes from Neil Lennon tomorrow. Alongside Soro, David Turnbull has returned from enforced isolation and should get an opportunity.
Christie and Rogic were both excellent in spells on Thursday, however the Australian looked exhausted by the time he came off.
We reckon a midfield three of Scotland hero Christie, Soro and Turnbull would placate many frustrated Celtic supporters.
Start Laxalt and Frimpong further up
With Elyounoussi’s continued absence through injury, Celtic are left with few legitimate options on the left side of the pitch.
Mikey Johnston is doing well to recover from a long-term knack, but it seems unlikely that he’s ready to start quite yet.
In our view, Jeremie Frimpong excelled in spells against A.C. Milan. Starting further up the pitch ahead of Elhamed, his pace and fearlessness had Theo Hernandez struggling to cope.
Of course, there are problems with Frimpong. His final ball is nowhere near the standard it needs to be, and his passing in general could be much better.
However, with Forrest still missing, Lennon should stick with one of the positives from Thursday night. On the other side, meanwhile, Laxalt could start in an attacking role, with Greg Taylor behind him.
Greg Taylor is by no means a fan-favourite at Celtic Park but for my money, he’s not quite as bad as he’s made out. Though he can be found wanting at a higher level, he shouldn’t look out place against St. Johnstone.
Strictly in a defensive role, Taylor wouldn’t be given license to roam. If he sticks to his position, he’s an experience Scottish left-back who just needs to help maintain shape and make tackles. That’s all. And he can do that.
At the very least, it’s worth a go. Laxalt’s service and Frimpong’s industrious running can provide real opportunities from Odsonne Edouard, who has looked clinical in recent matches.
Barkas needs another go
This won’t be popular, but Neil Lennon should start Vasilis Barkas tomorrow.
Why? Because goalkeepers are a rare breed, who rely on confidence and trust. Swapping Barkas out at this point would only further damage his morale.
There are calls for Lenny to start Celtic’s 6’5″ academy product Conor Hazard. At 22, Hazard has experience making saves in the domestic game. The Northern Irish stopper made 6 clean sheets in 11 games at Dundee during a loan spell in 19-20 (Transfermarkt).
However, Celtic invested £4.5m in the Greece international (BBC). He has to come good at some point, surely? There’s got to be something that Nick Hammond and his scouting team saw. He was by no means a disgrace at AEK Athens, so he’s got to have attributes.
Celtic will no doubt be looking for a new #1 when the January window comes round. Until then, Lennon has decide whether to trust Barkas to find confidence, or go with Hazard. Scott Bain has been woeful in goals for Celtic this year, and shouldn’t be considered.
We’ve backed Barkas before, but after his honking display at the San Siro, he’s under immense pressure. It’s only December, but the goalkeeping position needs serious work.
That’s a concern, isn’t it?