Celtic youngster Leo Hjelde helps to surely keep Staggies afloat
It may not have been a particularly dramatic Wednesday night for Celtic, but it certainly was for one the club’s loanees.
Leo Hjelde, compared to Virgil van Dijk by loan manager Yogi Hughes, was on hand to help Ross County overcome Hamilton. With a three-way survival battle at the bottom of the Scottish Premiership, this was a huge result for the Staggies.
Hjelde started a 2-1 win for Ross County against fellow strugglers Hamilton Accies [BBC]. Very likely, it’s determined the final outcomes for both clubs. With a win, Ross County have moved three points clear of 11th placed Kilmarnock. Hamilton, meanwhile, are seemingly marooned at the foot of the table.
It’s a situation that leaves Accies needing Killie to lose by a record number of goals in the top flight. So, at this stage, it’s relatively safe to say the Premiership mainstays are mainstays no more.
Hjelde started at left-back, and the 17-year-old didn’t seem remotely overawed by the occasion. It was another solid display from the Norwegian, who made 2 tackles and provided support out wide in Hughes’ attacking 4-3-3.
It’s important not to overdo it – Hjelde wasn’t shades of Baresi in this outing, but from a mental perspective, it’s a big game in his development. Challenging for trophies is one thing, and he’ll do that at Celtic. But the experience of handling a “relegation six-pointer” will serve him very well.
What a signing Celtic youngster Leo Hjelde has been for Ross County
There are a few factors in reviewing Ross County’s season in its totality. They’ve had two managers, which obviously complicates things. But let’s look at the defence before and after Ross County brought in the Celtic youngster.
With Hjelde in the team, Ross County have conceded an average of 1.5 goals per match, over 10 games. Fine, it’s not brilliant. Prior to that, though, Ross County conceded 50 goals in 22 league outings, averaging 2.27 goals per 90, if my maths is correct.
That’s a marked improvement, no matter how you look at it, and for a 17-year-old to have that kind of impact on a struggling defence is remarkable. Of course, a lot of that is also down to system, and the management of Hughes. However, Hjelde can use that objectively, and know he was instrumental in improving a defence.
And in the end, that defending looks like keeping the Staggies up. Hughes just needs to not lose against Motherwell, or just hope results elsewhere fall kindly in the next round of fixtures to avoid a relegation play-off.
As far as first-team experience goes, it’s been a steep learning curve for Leo Hjelde, but it could benefit Celtic long-term.