James Forrest will need a wee afternoon nap today because he won’t have slept a wink last night. A first half chance given up as Gordon put him off his stride and then a second half sitter will have made for an anxious night’s sleep.
Meanwhile as Jamesy snoozes the Celtic HR team will be administering the overtime requests for a medical team with a lengthening queue outside the physio’s door, as Anthony Ralston, Jota and Stephen Welsh all look for reassuring December prognosis’s for those troublesome hamstring or ankle issues that forced them from the field last night.
Squad management in a hectic December was always going to be a juggling act for Ange Postecoglou, but much more of this and he’ll need assistance from a conjurer. For now, you’d imagine he’ll just about cope.
The return of Carl Starfelt and that wonderful performance to boot will have been enough to at least soften the blow of the loss of Stephen Welsh, a player himself who had stepped up admirably in recent games. However, the pre-match omission of Cameron Carter-Vickers to a personal issue would be something the gaffer will praying is short term in nature as the big man is much required.
With no news on an imminent return for Christopher Jullien, then the back-up central defenders look a little August in Champions League qualifiers, with both Dane Murray and Osaze Urhoghide the next in line and both have been conspicuous by their absence from first team matters this season. There is of course Nir Bitton to call on, yet with Tom Rogic just returning from a spell on the sideines himself you’d imagine midfield rotation may necessitate the Big Israeli remains utilised as a midfielder rather than a defender as December progresses, a position he has excelled in.
The loss of Anthony Ralston is a major blow. Had the right-back remained on the field last night he’d have surely given top bhoy Starfelt a run for his money as the man of the match. The most incredible thing was the fact he lasted so long and it was a hamstring pull rather than an impact injury that forced him from the field such was the physical attention he received from the opposition last night, signified by and early challenge that impacted halfway up his shin from Barrie McKay.
The loss of Ralston can of course be negated by moving a Croatian International to his preferred position, but that simply moves our defensive concerns to left back and it leaves us worrying short of cover at right back. With Greg Taylor still not ready to return it’s a lot to ask of young Adam Montgomery, as promising and willing as he seems, to play through a hectic run of fixtures and maintain performance levels and fitness throughout. Yet with Boli Bolingoli needing a shop window to attract January suitors and Liam Scales champing at the bit for a chance to shine, we may yet have enough to cope if those players feel they have a point to prove and are good enough to show it.
But perhaps the most worrying loss was that of Jota. The wee fella has arguably overtaken Kyogo of late as Celtic’s most influential attacker, so the sight of him pulling up with a hamstring complaint was a head in hands moment for us all – we can but hope his quick realisation and the decision to remove him from the field immediately will have minimised the time spent out the team but you’d assume it will be a couple of weeks at least until Jota can be called upon.
After all, there really is only one left sided attacking option as cover and Mikey Johnston’s own injury history means the support will feel similar levels of anxiety to James Forrest as he tried to nod off last night, every time Mikey stretches his legs or receives similar levels of attention those Hearts players dished out to the Celtic players last night.
But if ever there was a time Mikey Johnston needed to stake his claim as a bona fide Celtic first team player, the period Jota remains absent has to be the time Mikey steps up. There is a player in there and a good one at that, but he needs to be at his work more and when he does, he needs to put in a shift, and a productive one at that. Opportunity knocks now for Johnston and in such moments, reputations can be forged. To take advantage he has to believe in himself as much as others do, if so a run of games may see the promise in Mikey Johnston emerge at last.
And as the medical team build up time off in lieu and Ange Postecoglou revisits who he can and can’t trust to perform from his supporting cast, the players who did take the field deserve a day of rest today. There may have been a deal of collateral damage but a vital three points were gained last night and that was simply huge.
Celtic were superbly entertaining at times; the goal was a wonderful example of some of that fine attacking play and Hearts could have had no complaints had they lost by more. Yet tiring limbs saw us hanging on at times and starting to rue missed opportunities. That made for an exciting last third for the neutral tuning in on TV but a nerve shredding conclusion for those with an emotional investment in this Postecoglou revolution.
It would be more of a concern if Celtic weren’t creating chances rather than simply failing to convert but when opportunities arrive on a plate, and we had a couple of those at least last night, we really do have to be more ruthless in front of goal.
But in truth that is a minor complaint. It was a good performance and an excellent result in a month we all know by now is simply about accumulating points and avoiding too many injuries. We’ve managed the former and hopefully we still have enough in reserve to absorb the latter for now. In fact, a few may wish to join James Forrest in having forty winks this afternoon, they’ve certainly earned the downtime.
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