Yesterday was frustrating. Let’s take those frustrations out on Hearts this Saturday

In what will be the last meeting between the sides this season, Celtic and theRangers played out a 1-1 draw in front of a packed Celtic Park yesterday afternoon. In a match that would have a major impact on where the league title would end up this season, Celtic started with a strong line up with possibly the only surprise being Matt O’Riley starting ahead of Tom Rogic in the attacking midfield position.

When I looked at the two starting line ups and the fervent support backing the Celtic players I genuinely could only see one winner, especially with the opposition having just travelled back from Germany a few days earlier after a tough shift chasing Leipzig around for 90 minutes. The match was even enough during the first 20 minutes but it was Celtic who broke the deadlock in the 21st minute when Jota showed great awareness to sneak in at the back post to get on the end of a Daizen Maeda cross.

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This seemed to knock the wind out of theRangers and my pre-match thoughts that Celtic would win this by a few goals looked likely. Jota had another great chance to add to the scoreline from a header shortly afterwards but headed over when it looked easier to score. Celtic were to pass up even better opportunities soon after, with Daizen Maeda guilty of wasting two fantastic opportunities to bury the opposition and end their fading title hopes there and then.

Having witnessed it a few times already this season, I just got the sense that we would pay dearly for missed opportunities and predictably that feeling came to pass when Fashion Sakala netted in the 67th minute. Suddenly theRangers looked the better team, no doubt a reaction to knowing they were back in a game that should have been long out of reach.

If it wasn’t for the upright saving Celtic, when once again Sakala had all the time in the world to get a shot away, we could be sitting today worrying about our final three games of the season and wondering how we managed to let a match that should have been ended as a contest before half time become the moment we let our rivals revive the title race.

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As it is, we managed to end the weekend holding the same advantage over our bitter rivals as we had before it started. With a six point lead and a mammoth goal advantage it really would take a major disaster to lose the league from this position. We have Hearts at home on Saturday and a win against the Jambos effectively hands us the title. In all honesty though, we should have ended it yesterday. We squandered a perfect opportunity to not only effectively end the title race, but to rub our rivals nose in it by doing it against them.

In the end a draw wasn’t a bad result and as I said earlier, only a major collapse will stop us now. I don’t think even their fans believe it’s possible. The match yesterday however left me frustrated the rest of the day. It annoyed me that we didn’t put a stamp on the season by beating theRangers yesterday. They weren’t at full strength. Apart from missing Juranovic, we were. We also had the backing of a jubilant crowd who were ready for a party in front of a small group of fans who deserved to have their noses rubbed in it after the way they have behaved over the past year.

(Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

There are a few things after yesterday that concern me. One is the fact that this is far from the first time this season when we have failed to take our chances to bury the opposition when we have had the opportunity to do so, only to let them creep back into a contest that should have been already ended. Let’s hope next season we learn to become more clinical when in the ascendancy. Taking the foot of the gas when in the lead is something that frustrates the hell out of me.

There are also a few players who are starting to worry me. The main one is Anthony Ralston. The way he has stood up this season and battled hard to become an important member of this new squad under Ange Postecoglou when many thought his future would lie somewhere else is inspirational. We are all delighted to see someone like Anthony who clearly loves the club live his dream. He looked like a new player earlier in the season but since Josip Juranovic got injured and he returned to the starting line up I have started to notice why many didn’t think he would make it at Celtic.

He has looked like the weak link in our backline recently. You could see yesterday that theRangers were trying to get the ball to Ryan Kent as often as possible to attack that vulnerability in our defence. Although no one can doubt his heart and effort, he often looks slow and struggles when someone with a bit of pace and skill attacks him. Thinking ahead to potentially playing in the Champions League next season, I wouldn’t want to see Europe’s best wingers against him.

I was also frustrated once again by Reo Hatate yesterday. Now before I go on, I know he is in desperate need of a rest this summer. He has only been playing top level football for a couple of years having came through the Japanese university system and has literally been playing for a year straight having finished the season back in Japan only to jump straight into this Celtic team half way through our season. He is clearly running on empty.

However I have been noticing lately that the Japanese midfielder has a tendency to jog alongside opposition players when they have the ball instead of getting a tackle in or even putting effort in to close them down. In the role he is being asked to play it’s imperative that you get in and about the opposition, breaking up play and never letting their players be at ease on the ball. We struggled earlier in the season when playing Rogic and Turnbull in the same side as Turnbull is slightly too passive for the ‘number 8’ role. It looked like Hatate coming in during the January transfer window would solve that problem but unfortunately he hasn’t proved to be that midfield battler we require in that role just yet.

Another one is Matt O’Riley. Similar to the Japanese midfielder, O’Riley joined back in January and started his Celtic career in incredible form, but like his teammate his form has also dipped recently. He produces nice touches from time to time and did do some good work tracking back yesterday but overall didn’t have much influence on the game. If he has aspirations of dislodging Tom Rogic from the attacking midfield position permanently he will definitely have to step his game up moving forward.

On the plus side yesterday I thought that our captain once again led by example, trying his hardest to get control of that midfield battle and did well despite being let down by some of his teammates in that area. Carl Starfelt for me could have been man of the match yesterday. He was especially impressive in the air, getting his head to a lot of crosses and set pieces as well as getting vital blocks in at stages.

Apart from one misplaced pass that was nearly costly, he also did well taking the ball out of defence to start attacks. A mention also for Joe Hart who pulled out a fantastic save during the second half. As mentioned in commentary at the time, last season we badly missed a keeper of Joe’s calibre to pull us out in such situations.

On to Saturday now and a meeting with Hearts who you just know will be giving absolutely everything to try and help revive the title hopes of their big brother over at Ibrox. Celtic must be prepared for a tough encounter and give everything they have to go out and effectively win this title in front of their own fans. This is not the time to take the foot of the gas Celtic.

Go out there, take your chances and bring home one of the most important titles of this century. We don’t want to give our rivals across the city even the smallest bit of hope of a drastic turnaround.

Conall McGinty

About Author

The Celtic Star founder and editor David Faulds has edited numerous Celtic books over the past decade or so including several from Lisbon Lions, Willie Wallace, Tommy Gemmell and Jim Craig. Earliest Celtic memories include a win over East Fife at Celtic Park and the 4-1 League Cup loss to Partick Thistle as a 6 year old. Best game? Easy 4-2, 1979 when Ten Men Won the League. Email

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