From a neutral perspective, this is a terrific season of Scottish football. The team at the top keeps changing, there are only eight points separating the top eight teams – not bad for a league of only twelve – and we’ve seen nothing to suggest that this scenario is going to change any time soon.
But I doubt there are many neutrals reading this blog.
Sunday’s visit to Easter Road was pretty poor from a Celtic perspective. Right from the kick off, Hibernian just looked like the better team. They got their tactics right where we didn’t, the formation worked better, their players looked more up for it than ours did, it was very disappointing.
Not for the first time away from home this season.
Having lost at Tynecastle, Rugby Park and now Easter Road, added to draws in Motherwell, Livingston and Paisley, our away from is mid-table at best. This is definitely something that we have to improve next week given we visit the teams that finished second and third last season in back to back games.
But this week it’s all about picking up points at home.
First up is one of our catch up games against Motherwell. That’s the fun thing about winning the League Cup and playing in Europe, you end up with a fixture congestion that means you play the same team in the league twice in quick succession.
It was only a couple of weeks ago that the referee did his best to ensure Motherwell got a share of the points. Yes, he awarded us a penalty but it’s hard to deny a stonewaller like the challenge on Ryan Christie that night. Fortunately for the referee, we missed that penalty and so him ruling out a perfectly good second goal from Filip Benkovic as well as allowing Cristian Gamboa to be barged out of the way in mid-air in the build up to Motherwell’s equaliser meant it was two more dropped points in a game that we should have won comfortably.
Then again, maybe we should have done more ourselves to win the game. We could have scored the penalty, but that seems to be something of a struggle for us since it was the second of three missed penalties in a row this month. We probably could have taken more chances than we did throughout the game too, so it’s not just poor refereeing to be blamed. It’s not like we can do anything about that, it’s been around far longer than most of us have!
If our away form has been disappointing far too often, our home form has been terrific. Twice we’ve put five past the team who were top of the league at the time, and we’ve won every home league game so far. Indeed, the defeat last week to Salzburg was the first game we’ve lost at Celtic Park this season, with the only other negative being the draw against AEK Athens that ultimately saw us drop into the Europa League.
Motherwell, for a long time, were the last team to beat us at Celtic Park exactly three years ago today. That claim only ended when Aberdeen won on the last day of last season.
Motherwell are in a very odd position in the league at the moment. While the top four are separated by just a point, and the top eight are just eight points apart, Motherwell find themselves another eight points behind that but are in ninth. They’re five points clear of Hamilton in tenth, and a full nine points clear of the bottom two. They won’t declare themselves safe from relegation, but they don’t really seem likely to be dragged into that. Neither do they seem likely to be aiming for the top six at this point either!
But that could all change very quickly if they can get a run together. And that might well be the problem Motherwell have so far this season, they’ve been very inconsistent. One week they can thump an Aberdeen team that seemed to be finding their form, the next they can lose to Livingston, then they’ll draw against Celtic. They’re picking up points, but not enough to mount a serious challenge on the teams above them.
The trouble for us is that we’re looking tired. We have players coming back from injury, notably Dedryck Boyata and Ryan Christie have both been in training, but maybe not until next week. Callum McGregor hasn’t had a rest, Kieran Tierney got one at the weekend, and as for Odsonne Edouard up front on his own… well there’s no other choice there really.
Like Tore Andre Flo before him, a massive price tag comes with a massive expectation. Flo wasn’t bad, he just wasn’t £12m good. It seems very harsh on someone still relatively young and someone who is being asked to play twice a week every week with no prospect of someone else coming in to challenge him or even to give him a rest. But when you’re reported to have cost £9m, mitigating circumstances or not, rightly or wrongly, there are going to be questions asked given it’s so much more than anyone spends in Scotland these days – ourselves included.
But then one of Edouard’s finest games last season came at Celtic Park against Motherwell at the end of a week where we played them three times! He came in and scored a hat trick in a 5-1 win, and that might actually have been the first time he had done anything of significant note for Celtic.
I’d love to see another performance like that, but if Edouard can play his part in a Celtic victory as he has done already many times this season then he’s more than earning his worth in our team as far as I’m concerned. Hopefully we can get him some more help in January.
Krys (Twitter @krys1888)