In many ways Sundays victory over Dundee was about more than just three points. As the domestic season pauses for an international break, it was important for the team to see out a demanding run of fixtures while still keeping pace with the league leaders. Questions have been asked several times this season about Postecoglou’s men; Can they perform away from home? Can the ‘system’ succeed in Europe or should Celtic be more conservative? Can they show the fight needed to grind out results the way a potential title challenger should?
Given back to back wins against Ferencvaros in the Europa League, which have guaranteed some form of competition after Christmas, and away victories against Hibs and Aberdeen some of those questions have been answered. Despite a dominant victory to round things off before the international break, cheap goals conceded against a poor Dundee side and more dropped points against Livingston still mean that Celtic are very much a work in progress.
It’s also impossible to ignore the ‘protests’ by sections of the Celtic away support. Looking into Ange Postecoglou’s post match comments will give some insight into how the manager see’s things and whether the support at large agree.
‘We’re still in the infancy of gelling as a team and playing our football. When we do that and are committed to it we’re a good side, but we’re nowhere near the levels now where we can take our foot off the pedal, and I thought for a small part we did. But it doesn’t take the gloss off it.”
This seems to sum up the overall feelings around the team at the moment. The four goals scored against Dundee where excellent. The attacking play was scintillating at times and, if not for some sharper finishing and a few decent saves, Celtic could have racked up a few more. This is illustrated by the fact they had 24 shots on goal, 13 corners and 7 shots on target. Given Celtic once again managed to rack up 81% possession, it is clear that when the players truly buy into what the manager is asking for they can score and dominate against anyone, certainly domestically at least. Interestingly Celtic managed to give away 10 fouls despite that huge share of possession, almost the exact same as last week. Meaning either they are fouling every time they lose possession, or perhaps the refereeing standards and decision making isn’t quite up to scratch. That may be a discussion for another day.
‘We got a bit sloppy in possession before both of those goals and we’ve got to be a team who stays focussed, because we’re nowhere near the levels we need to be yet…’
The interesting point here that the manager is highlighting is that the teams slackness cost two goals, not just the defence. This idea of the team attacking together, by the centre backs playing out and starting a move/retaining possession, has brought some brilliant success so far. As mentioned the attacking displays this term have been excellent to watch. The team defending together, however, is another matter. Whether it was the midfield who didn’t press the opposition off the ball enough, or the attackers not closing players down or tracking back, it puts pressure on an exposed backline. This has to be ironed out and Postecoglou seems all too aware. He doesn’t seem to get too high on a great result or too low on a disappointing one, but by highlighting the importance of the team defending together, clearly he knows there is work to be done.
‘You would have to ask the individuals why they felt the need to do that…My view again is pretty simple, that we treat these things with respect and dignity – and that’s what we try to do…We certainly did and I think the majority of the fans did because that’s the kind of football club we are.’
Sadly, there is more than just the on field display to talk about. Once again the Celtic away support, for good or bad, took the opportunity to politicise and protest. During the minutes silence for remembrance Sunday, members of the crowd sang about Aidan McAnespie, an Irishman who was killed by British troops in 1988, before staging a protest against the board by throwing tennis balls onto the pitch. Regardless of the political ideologies associated with Celtic’s proud Irish history, it is hard not to feel that this was not the time to interrupt a respectful silence. Many Celtic fans have strong issues with the wearing of poppies etc, that is their right and shouldn’t be challenged. However, a lot of fans have had family who either fought, or are fighting for the country they live in. This trolling of a moment of reflection may seem like an act of defiance against British oppression, but it was also disrespectful act that has again put Celtic under the spotlight for the wrong reasons. Regardless which side of the argument you may find yourself on, there must be a better way to ‘make a stand’ than this.
Regarding the tennis balls being thrown on the pitch, it was an interesting way of making the board aware of the feelings toward the appointment of Bernard Higgins. The question remains though, is affecting matters on the pitch, by causing a delay, counterproductive to the team that you have come to support? Another question that will likely never have a definitive answer. It would be nice to celebrate the victory, and progress made, before the international break without off-field matters overshadowing things. It would seem Celtic have more than enough to contend with on the field.