One of the biggest criticisms I would dish out to Neil Lennon and the Celtic coaching staff is the lack of game time afforded to those they deem to be fringe players at the club.
It’s a bug bear of mine that has heightened, particularly with the current run of form, that the squad hasn’t been used when it is patently clear that those who are being given the starting shirt week after week are not reaching the levels of consistency required for Celtic to mount a credible title challenge.
Yet be it a change in formation or a shift in starting position the manager continues to hang his hat on a core group of performers. There has been inconsistency throughout the side of course but in the last few games in particular you’d welcome the return of inconsistent form when clear and evidenced staleness has replaced it.
That is why it was welcome to see that there will be a reason why it may be possible to enjoy rather than merely endure Celtic’s dead rubber Europa League tie with Lille tonight.
In yesterday’s press conference Neil Lennon indicated he intended to use the squad in tonight’s encounter as he looks to replace Ryan Christie, who is suspended for tonight’s meeting, and others who may be as tired of mind as they are of limb from recent exertions.
Tonight, we can but hope the likes of Ismaila Soro and David Turnbull in particular are afforded the opportunity to stake a claim for a starting position, whilst Patryk Klimala a player whose application and drive I admire a great deal may also see some action. There may even be scope for another.
When players are performing in snatches it should mean opportunity knocks for those on the periphery. When it does, we can but hope they take their chance and inject some pace, tempo and hunger into a languid Celtic side and stake a claim for further game time.
Soro in particular is a player we’d all like to see given his head. This is the player clearly expected to take over from Scott Brown when the captain hangs up his boots. As such he was probably expecting to deputise somewhat more often for a player in the twilight of his career, but he has been afforded so little of even that opportunity he must have been wondering why he was signed in the first place.
Assuming Scott Brown is rested tonight, there is a chance for Soro to show a manager, risk averse at blooding alternatives, that Soro can be trusted and in turn Scott Brown’s game time and legacy can be managed.
David Turnbull is another who deserves not only the nod tonight but a run of games. Turnbull had returned from a long-term injury and had just got up to match sharpness at Motherwell after a year out the game when we signed him.
You can only assume, given the fee we parted with and just how much we courted the lad, that his signing was with a view to being a first team player. Yet not only have we used him sparingly we will also have let the match sharpness he’d regained at Motherwell subside.
Now when we require him, we’ll need to afford him consistent game time before we can pass judgement on his ability to be a Celtic player. He’ll need a few 90 minutes to get up to speed. Turnbull can at least stake a claim tonight and give other members of the first team squad some much needed competition. There are others playing his position who appear to be coasting.
Further forward there is a case to be made for the inclusion of Patryk Klimala. With Odsonne Edouard out of sorts and Albian Ajeti struggling for fitness, Polish Paddy deserves another chance. His goal against St Johnstone showed the player has the determination to make it at Celtic, but we don’t know if he has the ability as he’s only flirted with first team chances all season.
What is clear to me is Klimala works better in a partnership and appears, from the limited glimpses we’ve had, to be a rough diamond. The Pole certainly struggles to lead the line on his own, but he can finish and he has heart. Those are two commodities in little evidence elsewhere in the frontline at present. If Leigh Griffiths fancies a shift tonight perhaps, he could link with Klimala and see what they can offer as a pairing.
It is refreshing to hear Neil Lennon talk about using the squad tonight. If there is a fear factor about risking some of these players, then it is down to them to allay those fears tonight.
At Celtic you can have limited opportunities to show your worth, it can be difficult to slowly feel your way into the team. Much like Jeremie Frimpong you have to hit the ground running when the opportunity arises.
Neil Lennon is going to afford that chance to some of those players this evening. Perhaps while he considers the outfield positions, he may look to Stevie Woods and ask him if Conor Hazard is worth chucking in between the sticks. Is there anything to lose with a gamble on the gloves tonight? Given the form of Barkas and Bain I’d suggest not. We might just get lucky.