Saturday, 31 March 2012

Hail The Champions?

At some point this weekend, Celtic are expected to win their first Championship in four years, their 43rd Scottish Championship in total.  While they have been the best team in Scotland, one suspects that while this championship isn’t “tainted” as some biased supporters claim, that the turning point that clinched the championship may well be their rivals descent into financial meltdown.
Iain Brines comes accross all schoolmasterly with Neil Lennon

The on field turning point for Celtic was undoubtedly coming from 3-0 down with 20 minutes to go in their match at Kilmarnock to draw 3-3 on October 15, which came six days after a 2-0 loss at Tynecastle.  Funnily enough Rangers dropped points at home to St Mirren that day, the next time they would meet – on Christmas Eve – a 2-1 win by St Mirren would provide Celtic with the chance to complete the task of overhauling the 10 point gap that existed between the Old firm teams on 15 October.

By the time Celtic’s 17 game winning run ended, with a 1-1 draw at Pittodrie earlier this month, Celtic were 21 points ahead of Rangers - boosted of course by Rangers 10 point deduction. Yet had there been no 10 point deduction, I’m not so sure Celtic would be in such a strong position.

For starters Rangers shipped 6 points in two home games (to Kilmarnock & Hearts) immediately after the club went into administration.  Assuming that Rangers picked up full points for those games, they would currently be 2 points behind.  For a side as good as Celtic, that should be a good position to launch the final push for the Championship – except that I suspect that judging from the recent League Cup final loss and the defeat to Rangers last week, Neil Lennon has not learned to keep his cool under pressure.

Of course there were outside influences for Lennon’s mood at the business end of last season – yet when it showed on the players was  a crucial midweek game in Inverness.  Yet Lennon has not learned to curb his own restlessness, which I think had a negative effect Celtic’s last two matches.  Much as Inverness’ performance & tactics was a factor, the fact that points were needed hindered Celtic’s mindset & played into Inverness.  Much more obviously this has happened now in Celtic’s last two matches, while “controversial” decisions have caused Lennon to erupt.  The prognosis is that while Celtic are not as mentally soft as they were, say in the mid 1990’s, there is a lack of planning in this department that could result in the problem of a mentally weak(er) side.

So it is surprisingly the fortitude side of the game that Celtic need to work on.  Maybe that comes from the players, but the manager needs to look at what he can do too.  After all, he cannot go on blaming bad officiating in matches (for if anything else, the standard of refereeing is poor while the standard of linesmen-ship is much worse).  For all the stick Wenger gets for his “I didn’t see it” line, it does deflect questions away from controversial decisions taken against his own players.

It’s not that Celtic are not a good team, I do think though that this team is still very much a team in construction.  This championship would be a different proposition had Rangers not been docked points.  Yet in spite of being the team with the best players, I do wonder if in normal circumstances whether that would have been good enough.  After the matches against Kilmarnock & Rangers, it’s a question worth raising.

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