Matt O'Riley looks set to be handed a hostile Celtic debut at Tynecastle on Wednesday
It’s perhaps earlier than Ange Postecoglou would’ve liked, but Celtic have little option but to throw Matt O’Riley in for a fiery debut at Tynecastle.
The £1.5m January signing from MK Dons only officially joined the club on Thursday night [Scottish Sun]. Given the swift turnaround, international clearance had not yet come through to allow him to feature against Alloa Athletic last night.
Probably for the best too given the injury knocks sustained. Yosuke Ideguchi, Liel Abada, and Callum McGregor all came off with differing levels of knocks. McGregor is said to be the worst, with Ange confirming he won’t feature at Tynecastle in 3 days’ time [Daily Record].
In addition to that, Tom Rogic will also be away on international duty with Australia whilst David Turnbull also remains sidelined. All of a sudden, the signing of O’Riley looks extremely vital.
James McCarthy was given an opportunity to shine at Alloa last night, but he failed to take it. Too slow and indecisive on the ball, the Republic of Ireland veteran would be a major concern if he was to start at Tynecastle. Ismaila Soro, meanwhile, is nowhere near it.
That leaves you wondering who could feature in those holding midfield roles. Reo Hatate will likely play in an advanced position to take up Rogic’s role. But with McGregor and Turnbull both out, that could leave us turning to O’Riley and Yosuke Ideguchi to solve the conundrum.
Hearts vs Celtic wouldn’t daunt O’Riley
O’Riley comes to Parkhead having already had leadership experience as captain of MK Dons in the past. Yes, it’s a step up, but he was signed for the here and now. This isn’t another project buy.
He’s also fit and good to go immediately. Remember, he played 30 times for MK Dons in the first half of the campaign. His most recent appearance was a win over Portsmouth last weekend. So whilst it’s been a hectic week for the player, he’s match-fit and ready to get cracking.
There is no good time to ease players in at this stage of the season. Every game is absolutely massive. Tynecastle, then, can’t be looked upon as some sort of daunting challenge that our new signings must be protected from. Hatate will almost definitely start and Ideguchi too if he isn’t still injured. There’s no reason O’Riley shouldn’t also be in the mix
We all know how well-renowned O’Riley’s passing range is. That should suit us well at Tynecastle, especially against a Hearts side that will likely come out to try and attack us. Having O’Riley available to ping eye-of-the-needle balls around will be a big plus for Postecoglou.
After all, if he doesn’t start, what does Ange really do with the midfield? Put Nir Bitton in alongside Ideguchi? That feels far too imbalanced. There’s not enough of an attacking threat there. You would much rather O’Riley was thrown into the deep end to see if he can swim.
And that looks all but certain to happen with the injuries Postecoglou is suffering from.