By Ramsay Banks
Frustrating loss after frustrating loss this season, we’ve always said “onto the next one”. Well, we barely ever took the chance of “the next one” and now it’s against Celtic. These games against the likes of the Old Firm shouldn’t define our season, but we can’t take points from the other teams in the league, so now they will.
Despite Rangers all but wrapping up the title, Celtic are obviously still a threat. They’ve won their last five matches and are top of the form table. This is a bad time to play them- before these last five they were dropping points to the likes of St. Mirren. Their improving form comes too late from their point of view, but it’s definitely not too late for them to help define the fates of other teams, like us.
If we were playing Celtic during their bad run, then I’d be happy with John Hughes setting us up to play the expansive football his teams are known for. This, if done right now, I’m almost certain would lead to a loss. However, I don’t think we should completely park the bus. We’re not good enough at defending to stifle sustained pressure from Celtic, and if we can get the ball up the park a few times we should be able to create something- even though they’re in good form this Celtic team is extremely erratic and unpredictable. Our best chance of scoring is capitalizing on a mistake. This would be more feasible if not for the next point however.
Opposition player in form – Stephen Welsh
With the poor form of the likes of Shane Duffy and Nir Bitton, and the injury to Christopher Jullien, Celtic academy product Welsh took his chance and hasn’t looked back. He seems to have formed a partnership with the ever-present Kristoffer Ajer, and the Celtic defence looks so much more stable. This makes tomorrow’s match look very daunting. As I said before, I think our best chance of scoring is taking advantage of a defensive error. Unfortunately, the Celtic defence seems to be gaining confidence with every passing game, with Welsh effectively being a new signing.
As if Welsh didn’t already make our job hard enough, he’s proven he can be a threat in the opposing box as well as a dangerous target man from set plays. He’s scored a goal since he’s come into the Celtic starting XI, heading home from a corner. The defender was left free, and showed his composure by not panicking with the opportunity to score his first goal. This could be troublesome, as we’re the pioneers of letting players free from corners. Staggies fans can only hope that the constant barrage of crosses we’ll inevitably be under will get us into a rhythm of getting them away by any means necessary. When we get to the other end of the pitch, we can only hope we can outwit the wonderful Welsh.
Staggies One to Watch – Alex Iacovitti
From one centre back to another now, Iacovitti is the one to watch for a different reason. When he first signed, he looked absolutely brilliant. He’s one of our best players on form, but that’s the problem- he hasn’t been in form for a while now. To be fair, you could say this for any member of the County defence (we’re leaking goals for fun), but for example the likes of Callum Morris at least look assured and somewhat confident. Iacovitti, for all his talents looks like a deer in headlights on the ball and when he gets run at. Not to mention his constant losing of players he’s supposed to be marking.
It’s clear concentration is a big issue for him, and we’ll see if he can hold it through the waves and waves of attacks Celtic will send our way. Tomorrow is a huge chance for him to boost his aspirations of working towards the Scotland setup, and he’s shown he’s more than capable with some of his isolated performances this season. A good game could see the 23 year old hit his stride.
As for the rest of the defence, I expect it’ll be a back four of Naismith at right back, Morris partnering Iacovitti and Carl Tremarco at left back, with Leo Hjelde ineligible against his parent club. If Hughes wants to go for a back five, I expect it will remain the same with Keith Watson coming in as the third centre back. Every player starting in the back line in particular has a monumental job on their hands.
Final thoughts before action
I said yesterday on the first episode of the Staggies View podcast that realistically I don’t see us even scoring. If I’m right then our best prospect is a 0-0 draw, which is even more unlikely, looking at the 53 goals we’ve conceded so far this season. We can only hope for a John Hughes masterclass, for a win or even a point that could save our season.