From Cup Final number 1 to not mentioned at all; Celtic goalie Conor Hazard
It’s hard not to feel sorry for Celtic goalkeeper Conor Hazard.
In his stead, Vasilis Barkas started the matches against Dundee United and Rangers.
Put it this way; if it was me, I’d be raging. And I’m useless at football. Ask anyone I grew up with.
Yet, Neil Lennon clearly has to convince the board to give him a budget. Part of doing that means playing the international goalkeeper the club spent £4.5m on (BBC).
With January looming, the last thing the manager wants is to look like someone who can’t spot a player. With Rangers’ lead looking increasingly unassailable, it seems likely that Celtic will spend rather than rely on youngsters.
That’s a shame, because if it weren’t for youngsters like Soro and Turnbull, we’d be much worse off. However, those are youngsters that, yes, the board spent money on.
Still, Hazard was part of our December run that gave supporters a great deal of hope before the crushing Derby defeat came. It feels very unjust not to play him.
Rating Conor Hazard in a Celtic shirt
Stats alone don’t tell the whole story. 3 clean sheets in 3 Premiership games is a good statistic in isolation, but it doesn’t entirely describe Hazard’s time in Celtic’s first team.
At 22, he’s in his infancy in goalkeeping terms. If he manages to avoid injuries, he has 15 years of top-flight football in him. His age and rawness were on display in the Scottish Cup Final, however. Yes, the penalty saves were fantastic, but he looked indisciplined from set pieces.
You could argue that he couldn’t do a great deal to stop Liam Boyce’s effort (Scottish Cup/YouTube), but the second goal came from a mix of bad defending and not getting a firm punch on the original pass.
It doesn’t make him a bad goalkeeper, he’s just low on experience. His most productive first-team spell anywhere was for Partick Thistle in 18-19, where he made 15 appearances. He subsequently made 11 starts for Dundee in the following season, keeping 6 clean sheets (Transfermarkt).
Unless he’s able to get some kind of first-team momentum, he’ll stagnate. Sure, as a goalkeeper, he’ll have longer to establish himself than players in other positions might, but a career in football at the top-level is still comparatively short.
From a mentality angle, it’d take a strong character to be alright with going back to reserve football after keeping a trio of clean sheets for the first team.
A loan may be best for Hazard
As a back-up, Hazard is more than capable. There’s no doubt of that. Certainly, he’s been more impressive than Scott Bain, whose appearances this season have been less than competent.
Still, does being 2nd choice and sitting on the bench suit Hazard’s development? I’m cynical that it does. For a player like the Northern Irishman to be warming a seat rather than out playing in his formative years seems a waste.
On form alone, there are many who’ll be confused as to why Hazard isn’t playing. For those not au fait with Greek football, you might wonder whether Vasilis Barkas is in the right career.
A move to league rivals might suit Hazard. Particularly, Hibernian might be a suitable target, given Dillon Barnes’ recall to QPR (BBC). Jack Ross’ belief in young, domestic players has paid dividends for Hibs so far this season, who sit in 4th at the time of writing.
He needs game time somewhere he’ll face a decent number of shots. Perhaps he was lucky in the three league games that Celtic played with him in goals. A prolonged spell away from the club may be just what he needs.