Celtic have had a major problem with goalkeepers this season. It goes without saying that everyone wanted Fraser Forster to return, but it didn’t happen. The club then went and spent £4.5m on a Greek international goalkeeper, who had recently been pursued by Roma. It was a considerable outlay for Celtic, which broke their transfer record for a keeper. Thus far, it hasn’t worked out.
Barkas has yet to make a save of note during his Celtic career and when he was injured during a clash with Shane Duffy against AC Milan, Scott Bain returned to the team. Bain made some decent saves, including two penalty stops, but was also at fault for a few goals such as gifting the ball to Sparta Prague’s striker on one occasion. Ultimately, he lost his place for the Europa League clash in Milan, when Barkas returned.
During that game on Italian soil, Barkas made a poor mistake, which gifted the Milanese a way back into the match. Indeed, from a free kick he stepped across behind his wall and was unable to prevent the ball from hitting the back of the net on his side of the goal. He stayed in nets for league duties, which brought further protests after a poor result against St Johnstone.
For the following Europa League game, Neil Lennon gave a number of fringe players a go. One of those players was Conor Hazard, who made a good stop and look composed in the last line of defence against a strong Lille side. He retained his place for the weekend’s SPFL game and kept a clean sheet, meaning that he got the nod for the Scottish Cup Final – making just his third appearance in the process.
Hazard had a poor game in the Final. He looked very nervous, but escaped disaster on two occasions. Once when he came rushing off his line but allowed Naismith to get in first, and once when he came out and the ball struck his chest rather than being gathered. Hazard was also largely at fault for one of the goals, a cross which he attempted to claim without raising his arms.
The game went to penalties and Hazard redeemed himself to become a hero with two saves from the spot kicks. Thanks to him we won the cup and he got his moment in the sun.
There’s no doubt that Hazard has potential. He is a young lad, who made mistakes on a huge stage just three games into his career. It happens. He will get better. However, the Cup Final did reveal that his time probably isn’t just yet.
That leaves Celtic with a conundrum. Who does Neil Lennon select tonight? Clearly, he doesn’t rate Barkas if he played his third choice keeper in such a big game and has twice dropped the Greek man. Similarly, Scott Bain hasn’t put together brilliant performances when he got his opportunity. It’s widely reported that the club will be looking for a goalie in January, but until such time they will need to decide who plays in the next few weeks and who goes to Ibrox between the sticks.
The penalty saves may have been enough to keep Hazard in the team. It remains to be seen.