Season Report: Celtic's number 56 Anthony Ralston

By David Walton

June 23, 2019

Anthony Ralston’s time at Celtic this season has once again been blighted by injury.

Ever since making his Celtic debut back in 2016 at McDiarmid Park against St Johnstone, it’s been injury after injury for the luckless right-back.

It’s certainly halted his development too. Ralston hasn’t had the first-team game-time he should have since his breakthrough three years ago. He’s now had just 45 senior games in that three-year period. Just 15 have come at Celtic, and once again it proved to be a frustrating year for him.

Anthony Ralston hasn’t had the game-time he would’ve liked this season (Vagelis Georgariou/Action Plus via Getty Images)

He started the campaign as third-choice to Mikael Lustig. Whenever Brendan Rodgers needed to rotate, it was Cristian Gamboa who was getting the chance ahead of him.

It was a frustrating time for Ralston, who had just come off a productive second half of the season before on loan at Dundee United. He managed 15 matches at Tannadice, but was now back to being rooted to the fringes of the squad. He didn’t even manage a single squad appearance in the Premiership until November.

Ralston’s time to shine

Fortunately for him, he got a chance to shine towards the final weeks of 2018. He featured in home matches against Motherwell and Dundee from the starting XI. He then even made a surprising cameo for 45 minutes at Ibrox when Lustig came off.

During those three matches, Ralston showed some promise. He was bombing down the right, and was even a goal threat with a fine finish against Motherwell at Parkhead. Going on the overlap, he was a menace to the opposition.

Ralston’s time in the team didn’t last (Mark Runnacles/Getty Images)

He was given another 90-minute run-out against Airdrieonians in the Scottish Cup in the first match since the winter break. Unfortunately, however, that was to be that.

Knee ligament damage put him on the sidelines for several months (Transfermarkt). During the departure of Rodgers and the return of Neil Lennon, Ralston remained sidelined. Lustig had then won his place back under Lennon, whilst Jeremy Toljan was second-choice.

A final appearance

Ralston would get another 90 minutes against Hearts on trophy day, and he assisted a Mikey Johnston goal to finish off the season. He had managed to leap ahead of Gamboa in the right-back ranks, but he still struggled to be chosen over both Lustig and Toljan.

Now, all of a sudden, he’s one of only two right-backs at the club. All three of his rivals have departed, with Manny Perez returning from a loan spell with North Carolina FC. Perez is, as it stands, Ralston’s only current rival for the right-back position.

Does Ralston have a Parkhead future? (Mark Runnacles/Getty Images)

Expect that to change in the coming weeks, with Celtic desperately needing a Lustig replacement in particular. But looking at the season ahead, Ralston could have an opportunity to make himself second-choice.

At the end of the day, however, Ralston isn’t yet quite good enough to be our first-choice at right-back. Celtic need more quality in that area, and Ralston needs games elsewhere. A lack of options, of course, could easily put that on the backburner for now.

It was a largely frustrating campaign once more for Ralston in a season that could’ve been so much more. Now, it’s difficult to know where his future lies.