The ruthless Celtic decision facing Neil Lennon this week

By Euan Davidson

January 23, 2021

Celtic boss Neil Lennon looks as if he’s staying for the foreseeable.

If that’s the case, then he’s got some big decisions to make. Foremost, he needs to sort out a defence, who have conceded 53% of their goals through set pieces.

If you were watching the match on Sky Sports the other night, you’ll have been staggered by that stat, no doubt. It makes sense though; think about it. When was the last time your stomach didn’t sink when we conceded a free kick?

It’s been the achilles heel for several seasons. Even Brendan Rodgers’ best sides were vulnerable from corners and free kicks. At this moment though, there’s a particular culprit who needs dropped.

Sad as it is to say, that culprit is Shane Duffy.

We’ve looked particularly lost when Duffy has been in the side. His stats may often make for good reading, but they don’t tell the full story. Against Hibs, for example, Duffy wasn’t strong enough in the air. Ajer and Jullien aren’t always a safe bet either, but we look more suspect when the Ireland international is attempting to co-ordinate the defence.

Duffy wasted possession with bizarre Hollywood passes, which might’ve counted as “clearances” on the stat sheet. Instead of a player like Welsh or Ajer, Duffy doesn’t look to make the simple ball to Soro, McGregor or our wingers, and it halts any momentum we could build from the back.

Shane Duffy laments another poor result / (Photo by Rob Casey/SNS Group via Getty Images)

Celtic boss Neil Lennon needs to end Duffy experiment

With the league looking well beyond us, there’s no real point in sticking with what’s been an expensive mistake, even for a loan deal.

While Elyounoussi and Laxalt have proven their worth, Duffy hasn’t impressed really since his first games. He looked for all the world like the “no-nonsense” centre-back Celtic needed for their back 3, but his lack of mobility and lapses in concentration have cost the club points.

And that’s sad to say. I’ll mention it for the million time; none of us here wanted Duffy to be anything but a success. Given the tribulations he’s gone through in his private life, and his obvious love for the club, nobody in the Celtic support would want nothing more than for Duffy to have been a stand-out for this season.

But if Lennon is to curry any favour with the Celtic support, he needs to get Stephen Welsh in the team.

Stephen Welsh in training / (Photo by Craig Williamson/SNS Group via Getty Images)

Welsh represents future for Celtic

It’s been quite a while since an academy graduate has truly cemented a place in the first-team. The last was probably Kieran Tierney. Welsh’s defensive instincts are sound, and his range of passing and decision making are impressive for his age.

Although the sample size is small, Welsh’s statistics are decent. He’s averaged 2.5 interceptions a game in the league when he’s played [WhoScored?], with his reading of the game not having to necessitate showy sliding tackles.

For some, the mark of a quality defender is that they don’t have to dive into tackles for 90 minutes a game. Welsh has so far looked accomplished in that regard. He hasn’t had to make a significant number of challenges so far.

From a national perspective, Scotland are also weakest at centre-back. Given the importance of players like Kieran Tierney, Callum McGregor and Ryan Christie to the Scotland set-up, it’d be good to see Welsh break into Steve Clarke’s team.

That means someone has to drop out, and that someone has to be Duffy. If Lennon is still in a job by the time Hamilton Accies visit, he has to be decisive.