December seems to be quite a crucial time of the football calendar for us. Not only do we end playing a large portion of our season in this single month, but this season it has also thrown up visits to the three nearest challengers in the league last season and a visit to the team we beat in both cup finals.
The bad news is that the most difficult two have yet to come. Not only were they second and third last season, but they’re second and third right now too!
The worse news is that the visits to Motherwell and Hibernian didn’t exactly end well for us! A draw at Fir Park and a defeat at Easter Road is not exactly the kind of away form we would hope for ahead of these two crucial games.
First up, it’s our trip to Pittodrie. So far this season we’ve beaten Aberdeen 1-0 on two separate occasions, but both of those came in Glasgow. The first was a bit of brilliant thinking from Scott Sinclair in the league game at Celtic Park, and the second was Ryan Christie’s League Cup winner at Hampden.
Both of those games were very tight affairs where, although we were the better team, we couldn’t really find our way through them. I’m not sure I would expect the same again today. With home advantage coupled with them having far better form than either time we’ve played them previously and us having a distinctly average away form, it may not be the same result this time.
Aberdeen didn’t have the best starts to the season and were languishing in the bottom half of the table at the start of this month. Although they made it to the League Cup final, beating close rivals in the process, that form didn’t really translate into the league until they kicked on from a fighting if ultimately fruitless performance against us.
Immediately after that they went to Ibrox and won, and although they they lost at home to St Johnstone – then the form team in the league – they came from behind to beat Livingston with a late overhead kick winner.
Or “did a Samaras” as it might otherwise be known.
Wins against St Mirren and Dundee, the two teams at the bottom of the table, might not seem quite as impressive. But then we couldn’t win in Paisley and they did pump Dundee after they seemed to be getting their act together.
At the weekend there, they beat Hearts 2-0 at Pittodrie to temporarily move into second spot, though they dropped back to third the following day after the game at McDiarmid Park was completed.
Should they win today, they’ll draw level on points with us albeit having played a game more. That’s a decent turnaround for them this month, especially when you consider they’ve had just as many games to play in it as we have and have done it without Gary Mackay-Steven who had only now recovered from the head knock he got in the final.
One reason for it appears to be the sudden form of Sam Cosgrove, a player who had barely scored a goal for anyone now has six in his last four games. Aberdeen seem to have switched to playing two up front and it’s working well for them, although they have a history of changing tactics when they play us. It remains to be seen if they’ll do it again today.
The good news for Celtic is that we should be able to welcome back a few players of our own. Ryan Christie came off the bench on Saturday, while Dedryck Boyata, Kieran Tierney, Mikael Lustig and Odsonne Edouard are also fit again. Tom Rogic, so often a thorn in the side of Aberdeen, can also play today before heading off on international duty.
But then again, what about Mikey Johnston? Having got his first goal for the club last midweek he added two more at the weekend and is earning praises from all quarters. Can he be dropped back out of the team when he’s in this kind of form? If you want players to step up and take their chances when they are presented then you have to be prepared to reward them when they do. The same could be said for Anthony Ralston, who also found himself on the scoresheet last midweek and who has put in two solid performances at right back this past week.
It’s the kind of problem that managers like to have, players in form and putting themselves in a position where you almost have to pick them in your starting eleven.
Almost. Like I said, we have two very tough away games to play now and we want our best and most trusted players in form for them both. Whether that is or isn’t these players, that’s up to Brendan Rodgers to decide.
Our away form has to get better quickly or we’ll risk losing out on eight in a row altogether. But Celtic under Rodgers have almost always risen to the occasion when necessary. Do that again this week and we’ll go a long way to putting everything right for ourselves again.
Krys (Twitter @krys1888)