Celtic started the Ten-in-a-Row campaign with a thumping 5-1 home win against Hamilton Accies. The second match of the season sees the Celts travel to Ayrshire tomorrow for their first away encounter of the 20-21 campaign with a 4.30pm Kick off. So, what are Celtic likely to face this weekend?
Our opponents Kilmarnock are now managed on a permanent basis by Alex Dyer and it’s fair to say he’s had quite the turnover of staff to contend with. Dyer stepped into the seat vacated by Angelo Alessio, sacked by Kilmarnock after only 22 games in charge last season. The Italian, succeeded Steve Clarke on a three-year deal in June 2019 began with a Europa League qualifying exit to Welsh part-timers Connah’s Quay Nomads from which he never quite recovered, with rumours abound that his management style and training programme led to him losing the dressing room. Dyer returned to the club on a deal to the end of the season and has now turned that into a long-term arrangement.
A massive 23 players have headed out the door as Dyer looks to shape the squad to his liking. Heading into the club come nine acquisitions as Steve Clark’s Scotland assistant looks to streamline the numbers, reduce the wage bill and make his own mark on the club.
The most notable exit has been Scotland international right back Stephen O’Donnell who spent much of last summer linked with a move to Celtic only for left back Greg Taylor to make his way to Celtic Park instead. O’Donnell has gambled on finding a new club despite the Covid 19 market uncertainty and remains unattached.
The other notable exits for the Ayrshire club include Jamie MacDonald who moved to Raith Rovers, the end of loan deals for the impressive Italians, goalkeeper Laurentiu Branescu, and full back Dario Del Fabro, who both returned to Juventus.
Taylor’s replacement at left back, Niko Hamalainen is back in West London with QPR, while midfielder Harvey St Clair returned to Venezia. Midfielder Harry Bunn, who like O’Donnell left Killie with no alternative in place remains without a club.
Central defender Clevid Dikamona on a one-year deal, has been the latest addition to the Ayrshire club’s ranks and is a name you may remember following his spell with relegated Hearts last season. Dikamona follows goalkeeper Danny Rogers who was back up ‘keeper at Aberdeen last year, whilst a second goalkeeper Jake Eastwood has come north on loan from English Premier League surprise package Sheffield United. He made an impression on his debut last weekend and it wasn’t altogether good.
The strengthening of the defence has continued with Aaron McGowan who left Hamilton, Brandon Haunstrop who signs on after leaving Portsmouth and a loan deal has been agreed with Zeno Rossi who joins from newly relegated Bournemouth.
In Midfield Killie have brought in Mitch Pinnock from AFC Wimbledon and Aaron Tshibola returns to Killie for a third time, signing a one-year deal at Rugby Park having been part of the Killie squad during the 17/18 and 18/19 seasons, this following time spent in Portugal and Belgium. He’s a player who used to get in about Celtic shall we say, so it will be interesting to lock horns again. The striking department has also been addressed with the signing of Danny Whitehall from Maidenhead.
Killie started their own league campaign on the road at Easter Road last week against Hibs and fell behind to two first half goals from the Celtic linked Martin Boyle, one of which an almighty goalkeeping howler from the aforementioned Eastwood, before striking back with a classy free kick from Chris Burke just before the break.
They couldn’t find the equalising goal their play possibly deserved. Playing in a 4-2-3-1 formation they edged the stats in terms of possession, passes made and passing accuracy. The one obvious issue was despite managing a respectful 12 shots on goal, they could only manage two on target, one from open play with the other coming from Burke’s free kick.
Strangely, and possibly one for those who enjoy a correct score bet, all three league encounters between the sides last season ended in 3-1 wins for Celtic. The Hoops only faced Killie and their plastic pitch advantage once last season and emerged victorious on 22 January, with goals from Odsonne Edouard in the first half before Leigh Griffiths grabbed a second after 50 minutes. Nicke Kabamba replied for Kilmarnock before Christopher Jullien made the game safe with a 73rd minute winner.
One to watch
Players to keep an eye on in terms of our own protection would lead you to the usual suspects of Alan Power and Gary Dicker, or striker Eammon Brophy who enjoys a goal or two against the Celts.
Though after his set piece delivery against Hibs last weekend Chris Burke remains one of the few Killie players reliant on brains over brawn. Despite his age the quality remains. It will be up to Celtic to ensure we keep a high tempo that renders Burke ineffective and ensure a few less of the conceded set pieces around the area that we saw in the first half against Hamilton last week. Give any away and Burke will fancy his chances of making the goalkeeper – will that be new signing Barkas? – work or supplying chances for his teammates.
One to target
Well that’s an easy choice after last week. When a goalkeeper produces a howler as Jake Eastwood did last Saturday Celtic need to take advantage. There is likely to be little confidence in the new addition from his wary defence and Celtic would do well to test the goalkeeper’s ability early doors. There’s an advantage to be had should Eastwood be entrusted with the gloves again and Celtic’s attacking players need to ensure they do just that.
Celtic certainly look like they’ll be playing a Kilmarnock team very much in transition and with Neil Lennon able to call on the majority of players who won the Nine-in-Row campaign and also likely to match Killie’s formation, then you’d assume Celtic could and should emerge victorious yet Rugby Park is never a ground you can take anything for granted.
Sunday will of course be a big test for Celtic and the first time we’ll play a domestic game on the road without our 12th man away support. The plastic pitch could also be the clichéd leveller, but Celtic have a big advantage in that we have a settled side while our opponents have had a huge turnover to contend with.
Killie’s confidence may be dented following their opening day defeat and with Celtic’s tails up after a fine opening day win, a bright start with a high tempo to force Killie to defend from the outset could see Celtic impose their game on the Ayrshire club. Do that and it could be a long afternoon for Kilmarnock and a welcome three points for the Bhoys.