Domestic Focus and Motivation

After the anticlimax of Thursday night’s penultimate European game of the season, we now have to quickly regroup and get back to winning ways with a very tricky league fixture.

Valencia could be the best team we’ve played this season, but unfortunately I’ve absolutely no idea if that’s the case because they didn’t get out of second gear and still left Celtic Park with a 2-0 victory. They’ll be delighted with that, especially since they seemed to set up to get a draw.

We seemed to collapse in on ourselves the minute a Scott Bain kick out tried to go through a small gap between two of Valencia’s attackers and failed to do so. That nervy moment set the tone for the rest of the half as simple basic passes across the team failed to find their mark. Our defensive line for their opening goal was at a 45 degree angle to what it should have been, and their second goal almost immediately after half time saw our defence pretty much asleep and killed off any belief we had that half time has allowed us to regroup. The early Callum McGregor effort prior to that Bain kick out turned out to be our only shot on target all night as we simply ran out of ideas against a well organised opponent.

Even Red Bull Salzburg, a team most observers would suggest are probably the best team we’ve faced this season, had to at least work to beat us and we gave them more trouble in both matches than we did Valencia. As a result, and despite all the bravado from Brendan Rodgers, the second leg is now a formality and we would be better off focusing our efforts on the two remaining domestic trophies.

We won’t learn any lessons in Spain next week that we shouldn’t already know by now after three seasons of Europe under Rodgers. I fear we’re moving backwards in that arena and it’s something that will absolutely need to be addressed.

Just not next week, it’s too late now.

It’s not all doom and gloom though. While we waited for our next league fixture to arrive, the two teams immediately below us were dropping points at home. Of course, that is also of major interest to our opponents today. Kilmarnock currently sit in fourth spot and will be aiming to go third and close the gap on second to three points with another win at home over Celtic.

Yes, another. If you need reminding as to just how tough today’s match can be, we’ve lost on our last two visits to Rugby Park. Last season in February it was a 1-0 defeat courtesy of the man we’ve loaned back to Kilmarnock this season, Youssouf Mulumbu. This season in September we were a goal up at half time thanks to Leigh Griffiths, but Chris Burke levelled the game after the hour mark to set the scene for a dramatic late winner from former Celtic youth Stuart Findlay.

You need to go back to August 2017 to find our last win at Rugby Park, when James Forrest and Callum McGregor got the goals in a 2-0 win over Lee McCulloch’s men. That was actually our last win over Kilmarnock until the 5-1 thrashing we gave Steve Clarke’s men at Celtic Park in December. As well as the two aforementioned defeats at Rugby Park we had two draws at Celtic Park last season too.

Or to put a more positive spin on that, in our last game against Kilmarnock we broke the pattern of home draws against Steve Clarke’s team. Hopefully today we can break the pattern of away defeats.

The negative side of this is at if Kilmarnock win again today then it will be the first time since 1964 when they’ve won three in a row at home against us. That’s back to an era when Kilmarnock were capable of winning the title as they did in 1965.

Last week, Kilmarnock had a goalless draw in the Scottish Cup at home and as such they face a replay at Ibrox this coming Wednesday. Whether they can overcome that challenge remains to be seen, but it will be a slight distraction for them on an otherwise quiet week. They didn’t have to play this midweek like we did after all.

Hopefully we can bounce back after Thursday night. Until then we hadn’t conceded a goal in 2019 and had won all our matches. The chance to extend our lead at the top as well as finally win at Rugby Park for the first time in eighteen months should all add up to more than enough motivation for today.

Krys (Twitter @krys1888)

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