Giorgos Giakoumakis isn't the only Celtic player who was badly missed today
There’s been plenty of spotlight on the idea that Giorgos Giakoumakis’ absence was a big reason for our defeat today, but Nir Bitton was just as big a miss.
Chris Sutton was one of the ones stating on Twitter post-match that having the big Greek sidelined was costly for the Bhoys against Rangers at Hampden. Undoubtedly it was. He brings a physical element to our play in the final third that we could’ve done with this afternoon.
But the most important player Celtic missed this afternoon actually turned out to be Israeli international Bitton.
We saw at Ibrox how key the Parkhead stalwart can be for us in this fixture. In that 2-1 success, Nir replaced Reo Hatate for the final 25 minutes and that gave Celtic some added composure and class in the middle of the park. It increased their rate of passing accuracy, and the rest of the team managed to see the game out with ease due to having confidence in Nir’s protection.
How badly did we miss that today after taking the lead? When Greg Taylor put Celtic 1-0 ahead, we were still far too messy in the middle of the park. Hatate was dispossessed too easily throughout the contest. That continued well into the second half even when we were 1-0 ahead.
Hatate ended up lasting 109 minutes this afternoon. And even though he added some driving runs forward to our play, it wasn’t his best performance. Having Nir there to come on at 1-0 and provide genuine solidity was exactly what the Hoops required at that stage in the game. After all, his stats in Govan read extremely well. 4 interceptions, 6 recoveries, whilst winning 5 of his 8 duels [Fotmob]. He’s the perfect sub for the kind of situation we were in today.
Nir Bitton was the key that could’ve secured Scottish Cup final for Celtic
The one thing our defence didn’t really have too much of after going in front was protection. Sure, Callum McGregor put in another tireless shift for the cause. But we really needed another in there to plug the gaps when in front as Rangers started to push more and more men forward.
It’s anyone’s guess as to what was actually wrong with Bitton also. There has yet to be any official confirmation on why he missed the matchday squad as a whole. Hopefully nothing serious.
But if you’re telling me that Celtic are able to bring him on with 20 minutes to go, they likely win the game. We would’ve had a firmer grip on the midfield battle and Rangers would’ve struggled to get as much joy in our own final third.
Perhaps the most frustrating thing about today is that it was all there for us. 1-0 up. Cruising. Rangers close to a major psychological blow. Only for us to let them off the hook.
You can’t underestimate how important physicality is when it comes to these derby matches. Too often today Rangers simply looked like a more powerful outfit. That’s something Bitton would’ve helped with in the final 20 minutes also. His physicality has so often proving a problem for Rangers, and he was exactly the cog we were missing at Hampden.
All we can do now is hope he’s back in time for Ross County next week ahead of Rangers’ next trip to Celtic Park on May 1st.
In other news, Ange Postecoglou’s relieving Celtic injury update after a draining day