Ange Postecoglou’s Celtic team have had a tremendous season. They’re in with a shout of setting a new record for goals scored in a league season, they’ve won 30 from 33 league games and have the League Cup in the bag. Therefore, it is perhaps hypercritical to point out that recent form hasn’t been quite at the level we have become accustomed to from this phenomenal crop of players.
The team dropped points for the first time since early January, last weekend. It was a poor performance, in which bad crossing and finishing combined with a defensive error to produce an unexpected draw. In the preceding four games, question marks had been raised. Indeed, after demolishing Hearts at Tynecastle in the Scottish Cup Quarter Final, Celtic struggled to get past a Hibernian team reduced to ten men at Parkhead.
The Hibees went ahead from the penalty spot and it wasn’t until the 81st minute that Oh gave the Hoops the lead. A rare day when we weren’t at our free flowing best, we hoped. However, Celtic were very unconvincing at Dingwall and the absence of Reo Hatate was starting to show in the midfield.
His dynamism and creativity was missed, as it took a penalty on the stroke of half time and a 95th minute wonder goal to seal the points. At no point was the result in danger, nor were Celtic dreadful, but it was a marked change from the free flowing stuff we have been spoilt with all season.
Hatate remained absent for the visit of theRangers, but Aaron Mooy returned. The pair have been magnificent next to McGregor in the middle, but it was evident that Mooy wasn’t quite up to speed or ready for that fixture. The team looked disjointed and were making rare mistakes on the ball, giving away possession cheaply. Two shocking errors from the opposition gave us two goals which were enough to win the game, but the most fervent of Celtic supporters admitted that we had put in perhaps our worst performance of the campaign.
A stunning first half of football at Rugby Park followed the derby delight. Celtic were 4-0 up inside 27 minutes and were the width of a post away from that lead being five. Matt O’Riley looked back to his best and Iwata stood out as a fine player. This was the free flowing attacking team we had been used to. The second half died away, but the game was well won.
So form has been mixed in terms of overall performances in the last five games. Hatate, Mooy and Abada are likely to be on the bench at the weekend, with Jota returning to the starting XI. These players are all crucial. Ange will know as well as anyone that we haven’t been hitting the heights of earlier in the campaign in recent weeks, though we have continued to score a number of goals and keep the wins ticking over. Thus, this comment is certainly not a criticism or an attempt to be hyperbolic about things. It’s just merely that by our own high standards, we know we can play better than we have recently.
This weekend could be the game where we rekindle the form shown at Tynecastle and prior. In truth, the SPFL has been won for months. This is now a one off game and a derby to boot. It’s the perfect occasion to put a stamp on things, to avenge the defeat at this stage last year, and to go and take a big step towards a treble.
The quality in our ranks is undeniable, the effort and fitness too. Hopefully, it’ll click back into place now with the Motherwell result giving us a wake up call and Celtic set to come flying out the blocks and get back to the Angeball style of football that we know and love.
Ange’s teams have always responded after dropping points. Hopefully, this weekend sees his side at their imperious, dominating best once again.