Yesterday was a great day for the Celtic Colts as they ran amok against Partick Thistle in the first game of this year’s Glasgow Cup.
Indeed, the 4-0 win at Firhill was courtesy of a brace from Cameron Harper as well as efforts from Luca Connell and Owen Moffat respectively. A number of them shined on the day, including the likes of Stephen Welsh and Ewan Otoo in what was a timely reminder of the talent we have coming through at Lennoxtown.
Fans were quick to jump on the Luca Connell bandwagon especially. The Republic of Ireland youngster signed from Bolton in the summer of 2019 and has yet to make a senior competitive appearance. Understandably, the fans want him to be given a shot, especially given how poor our midfield has been this season.
However, I think this needs to be opened up into a wider discussion on the prospect of first-team chances for any of the Lennoxtown hopefuls.
For me, the idea of youth integration can be forgotten about this season. Given everything that’s at stake both for Celtic as a club and Neil Lennon as a manager, there’s little to no avenues available for the youth players to come in and make their mark.
Sure, the continuation of youth integration into first-team training should and likely will continue. Ensuring the likes of Connell, Welsh, Harper etc all train with the senior squad regularly is a key part of preparing them for life as a Celtic player.
But you have to look at the bigger picture. Celtic are going for 10-in-a-row, and that’s 10 years of work that has to be taken into consideration. At what stage does Lennon throw youngsters into the mix? It’s far too big a season to be risking things like that.
No risks can be taken this season
Lennon will know that if we give Connell or Harper minutes and then sees his midfield get overrun, it’ll be he who’s criticised for not going with more seasoned pros.
Perhaps if we were running away with the league, you could look at home games against bottom-six clubs and potentially pinpoint those as games to give youngsters a chance. But every point is a prisoner now, and we’re not in a position to underestimate any fixture or play weakened sides in any of them.
Then there’s the idea that we should just play the youth/reserve players in the Betfred Cup. Unfortunately, even that is out of the window now. Celtic need to win as many games of football as they can at the moment, regardless of what competition we’re playing in.
Imagine the picture if we play eight or nine Lennoxtown starlets on Sunday against Ross County at Parkhead, and then lose the game. Is the aftermath going to see everyone praise the club for giving them a chance? Nope, the pressure on the manager would be cranked up further, and he would likely be questioned and vilified for disrespecting the opposition.
And that leads on to the final reason as to why the youngsters won’t be given a look-in this season – the pressure on the manager.
Even if the board is still backing him, Lennon must feel as though he’s only ever one defeat away from the sack. Such is the (deserved) incessant criticism from supporters over the performances this season, youth integration isn’t something that will even be being considered by the manager. Not with his job on the line on a game-by-game basis.
Celtic’s best young talents all have a future in Glasgow, that much is certain. But if they’re hoping for senior minutes this season, it’s difficult to see where those come from.