On a dismal day for Celtic, Stephen Welsh stood out from the pack

By Euan Davidson

January 12, 2021

It’s very hard to review a Celtic match like the one that took place last night, but it’s not difficult to notice the influence Stephen Welsh had.

In isolation, a 1-1 draw with Hibs isn’t necessarily a bad result, most seasons. Home or away, they’re generally a tricky side to break down. They have amongst the hardest working defences in the top-flight, and real threats going forward.

Still, it’s particularly gutting that once again, Celtic gained three points and then gave them away as quickly. Could we reasonably have expected a win with 13 players missing (BBC)? No, yet until injury time, the Bhoys had an unlikely result sealed, given the circumstances.

Part of that was – again, until injury time – a very solid defensive display at home to Jack Ross’ side. And within that display was a defender that we assumed was a forgotten man.

Through necessity rather than invention, young Welsh found himself back in league action last night, and the signs were excellent. He needs to be nurtured through top-level experience if we’re to make the best of him, going forward.

Celtic defender Stephen Welsh at training / (Photo by Craig Williamson/SNS Group via Getty Images)

Stephen Welsh: a Celtic prospect with an exciting future

It’s actually a bit of a misnomer to say Welsh was “exciting” last night. Because, honestly, the last thing you want is excitement from your centre-backs.

He was solid. On the eye test alone, Welsh looked strong in the tackle, a commanding presence at the back, and his pace in recovery situations is underrated.

Welsh’s positioning was really good, too. Depending on how you look at it, a low number of tackles in a game is a positive sign rather than a negative one. There is a school of thought that insists tackling is an act of failure, in and of itself. Ask Xabi Alonso (The Guardian):

“I can’t get into my head that football development would educate tackling as a quality, something to learn, to teach, a characteristic of your play. How can that be a way of seeing the game? I just don’t understand football in those terms. Tackling is a [last] resort, and you will need it, but it isn’t a quality to aspire to, a definition.”

The Spanish legend will have been happy to see that Welsh only needed to make one tackle all game, then (WhoScored?). The young Scot won 6 aerial duels, and his passing was crisp, with outlet balls coming via Soro and his two full-backs.

He’s still a raw prospect, of course. However, he’s not once disgraced himself in a Celtic shirt. He’s desperately unlucky to have never won a clean sheet in the first-team; it looked for all the world like that was on for him last night.

Celtic still need to strengthen Welsh’s position but if any kernel of good news can come out of yesterday, it’s that Welsh’s decent performances under Neil Lennon weren’t flukes. Ball-playing defenders like Welsh are an expensive commodity, and while his defensive output was good, he never looked uncomfortable last night.

Welsh really should be starting ahead of the likes of Nir Bitton when there’s an opportunity. His notable performances have come at exactly the right time for the Bhoys, with Jullien set to miss most of the rest of 20-21. Duffy, despite a good performance last night, inspires little confidence amongst the support.

Kristoffer Ajer and Welsh really should get a run of games together. If the 20-year-old can build on his impressive Celtic portfolio so far, then there’s a real talent there.