Interim Celtic boss John Kennedy still has a role to play.
In the two games he has left, he can either stick with an under-performing team of misshaped parts, or have some fun with it. ‘Fun’ being dead-rubber fixtures against a rampant St Johnstone and third-place chasing Hibs.
Of course, there’s little to no pressure on Kennedy. Everyone and their cat knows that the former Celtic defender won’t be getting the job full-time. In trying circumstances, he’s had a mediocre time of it as interim boss. It’s sad to say, because I was perhaps misguidedly confident about what the coach could do.
Granted, it’s hardly been the fairest test for a manager. This was and is a squad bereft of confidence. Under-manned in a number of areas, Kennedy has had to pick up a side with little fighting spirit or tactical identity. He’s tried valiantly to create some kind of coherency, but it just hasn’t happened.
So, in these last two games, with nothing at stake, surely it’s time to get a bit wild. This is the ideal time to hand out some debuts, and there are a few candidates who I’m sure the support would like to see adorn the Hoops. St Johnstone are fresh off another semi-final win, and Callum Davidson has built a very decent side. Surely, though, there’s enough quality to see us through against the Saints tomorrow night.
Here are our picks for the team John Kennedy should play tomorrow night.
Celtic still don’t really have a number 1
Frustratingly, we’ve watched as the goalkeeper wheel of fortune has landed on Scott Bain’s name for a lengthy run of consecutive weeks. As likeable as the big fella is, surely his time’s up. With distance from our last outing, it’s still clear that Scott Bain can’t be our number 1 going forward.
Now, usually I’d suggest Vasilis Barkas should get a start, but what’s the point? The winds of speculation seem to be blowing towards Barkas returning to Greece, so by that logic, we ought to start Conor Hazard.
He’s the only goalkeeper of the three who looks like a realistic long-term option. By no means is he ready to be Celtic’s number 1 yet, but he did little to disprove any suggestion in a short run of games. His aerial prowess and distribution need work, but only game time will truly remedy the faults in his game. The big Irish stopper needs more first-team exposure: this is a good opportunity.
Some new faces in defence
Greg Taylor still doesn’t seem 100% right, while Diego Laxalt’s early momentum has fallen away. We’re as well handing a full debut to Adam Montgomery, and seeing what he can do.
The converted attacker has been named in a number of first-team squads, but hasn’t seen action. Most notably, he was on the bench in the Scottish Cup against Rangers, and also in our 1-1 draw with Aberdeen. Clearly on the cusp of a debut, it makes sense to play him in this one. Absolute worst-case scenario, Taylor can come on, but a driving, attacking left-back would be at the very least an entertaining alternative.
In the middle, Stephen Welsh and Kristoffer Ajer will likely feature as the centre-back pairing. Generally speaking, the duo have been solid, and barring any fitness issues you’d expect them to start. This is a very different Predicted XI but let’s not go entirely crazy here.
On the right, it’d be good to see Anthony Ralston get a go at one of his loan clubs. The right-back has actually made more appearances for the Saints than for Celtic, but with Jonjoe Kenny failing to deliver, it’s very much a case of “might as well” on this one.
The Celtic midfield needs freshening, pronto
Midfield is a trickier one.
It’s impossible to imagine Scott Brown not starting in his second-last game for Celtic. Furthermore, his last at Celtic Park in our colours. Broony has been instrumental to our 9IAR and Quadruple Treble successes [Celtic FC], and deserves a far bigger Paradise send-off than he’ll get tomorrow night. Covid-19, eh?
Further ahead, it might be prudent to actually give Callum McGregor a rest, so Tom Rogic could start this one. It’s been a season of fits and starts for the Australian, but these might be his last Celtic matches, too. There’s a conceivable scenario in which a reasonable offer comes in for the midfielder. Alongside him, David Turnbull is as close to a sure thing as it gets.
If Brown isn’t on song, this might not be the best midfield in terms of ball recovery. However, we can and should expect to see more of the ball in this one, creating plenty of opportunities as we go. With Rogic and Turnbull, we do that, with ball winning from Soro and McGregor on the bench.
In attack: unleash the youngsters
This is where it gets interesting.
A wing duo of Armstrong Okoflex and Karamoko Dembele would get people talking. It’d be the kind of bold, attacking 4-3-3 that Celtic fans got used to over the last decade or so. Okoflex is more of a gamble, but he showed flashes of quality in limited minutes against Hibs earlier this season. He surely has the trickery to cause the Saints defence problems.
Dembele, meanwhile, needs to start games sooner or later. We know there’s a player there, and he looked more physically imposing in a cameo role against Aberdeen. Kennedy has nothing to lose and so much to gain by starting these two rapid, technically gifted wingers.
They’ll be ideally providing service to Odsonne Edouard. Sad as it is to say, the guy needs a couple of big performances before he sets off for the Olympics.