Celtic v Airdrieonians
(Scottish Cup Fourth Round)
5.15pm, Saturday, 19th January.
Celtic, top of the league but still nursing some wounds, kick off the second half of their season with a defense of the Scottish Cup against League One side Airdrie.
A cup tie with a lower-league side at home should be just the ticket to start off 2019 on the right foot. Hoops fans will be wanting to see a hungry, driven Celtic, eager to put December’s defeat at Ibrox behind them. And what of Airdrie? Besides bringing a decent away support and a Premiership-class firm (albeit a right-wing and violent one), can they offer enough quality on both sides of the ball?
At the time of writing, Celtic have returned from their warm-weather training and are in the process of bedding in new signings Oliver Burke and Timothy Weah. Striker Vakoun Issouf Bayo is also on the way. So it’s been, in my opinion, a decent first half of the window, and the men in green and white have a fairly cushy fixture list to look forward to in January. This will be a nice change from December when Celtic were put through the wars (W5 L3 D1). It’ll be Airdrie, St Mirren, Hamilton, and St Johnstone, all on the friendly pitch of Paradise.
Now, the opposition. Aside from “mid-table League One side from North Lanarkshire what folded awhile back and is a new club” I didn’t know much about them. Airdrie sit fifth in League One on 30 points having won 9, lost 9 and drawn three. They have scored 31 goals to 27 against, both also solidly mid-table. The Diamonds have one of the more interesting kits in world football, but they are somewhat marred this year by their sponsor, a drilling contractor with the colorful name of “Holemasters”.
Stats & Facts:
- The last time a club named Airdrie won at Celtic Park was 1956
- Celtic have scored eleven goals in their last three home matches and have yet to not win at home this season against domestic opposition.
- Airdrie had won three straight before a 1-1 home draw with Raith Rovers this past weekend. They defeated Dumbarton 3-0 in the third round of the Scottish Cup to earn their place here.
Last Five Meetings:
Celtic have never faced this incarnation of Airdrie. For the young team reading this, Airdrie were originally founded in 1878, and went bust in 2002, after which Clydebank FC was bought by a local banker and renamed as the new Airdrie. So this is very much a new club. Airdrie 5088 if you will. In the interest of #content, however, here are Celtic’s last five matches against defunct Airdrie.
- Celtic – Airdrie 3-1, Jan’99 (Scottish Cup)
- Airdrie – Celtic 1-0, Aug’98 (League Cup)
- Celtic – Airdrie 1-0, May’95 (League Cup)
- Celtic – Airdrie 1-0, Aug’93 (League Cup)
- Celtic – Airdrie 4-0, Apr’93 (Premier Division)
Leighton MacIntosh is the danger man offensively for the Diamonds, scoring six goals this season and four in his last three. He has had varying degrees of success with Peterhead and Arbroath before trying his luck in Airdrie, but will need the performance of a career (or a catastrophic error) on Saturday to find his way onto the scoresheet.
I’d expect manager Ian Murray to go with experienced keeper David Hutton, who is also likely going to need to be at his absolute best and catch a little luck to keep Celtic out of the net. Real fans of Scottish football might remember midfielder Dale Carrick from fruitless spells at Hearts and Killie, but probably not. Midfielder Grant Gallagher, who spent a few years with the Celtic reserves, will play a leadership role in the Airdrie midfield. Captain Sean Crighton will marshal the defence.
And how will Celtic line up? A lot depends on the current state of injuries, which is (as it has been all year) not so good. Kieran Tierney is still out of training with a hip injury, about which a surgery decision has yet to be made. Odsonne Edouard won’t make Saturday. And the list goes on.
I’ll use this soapbox opportunity to put forth a crackpot theory I have: Celtic will not sign a right back in this window. KT will be shut down for the season and have surgery, by far the most sensible thing to do for his career. And Brendan Rodgers will go back to the 3-5-2 of his dreams when this season kicked off, lo those many months ago when Moussa Dembele was going to lead the line!
The major issue with this theory is that Celtic don’t have the personnel to play with three center-backs. However, if they stay with four at the back the personnel to play with competent left and right backs doesn’t exist either, so something is sacrificed no matter what. I see a back three of Lustig, Boyata, and Benkovic in front of Scott Bain (who helped win the League Cup and should now also be entrusted to defend the Scottish Cup).
Lustig’s frailties are minimized in a system where he is not asked to do so much running, and entrusted with the basics of defending and distributing to the midfield, he should be more effective. Kristoffer Ajer is still learning the position and doesn’t yet look entirely comfortable, but he is a quick study and is also a future candidate for a back three, as could be Nir Bitton once he rounds into match form.
This change of system helps Celtic address their LB/RB problem at the same time as players like Lustig (who has played centre back for Celtic before) and Bitton (certainly capable of the demands of the position) might find new life in a new role. And Airdrie at home is certainly a viable place to give it a try out, presumably after having practiced with the formation over the break.
Let’s also assume that young Weah is fit to start and given at least an hour to the cause. He’ll be partnered with Scott Sinclair, deputising up front in the absence of Edouard. Lewis Morgan (making his return from the Springfield Mystery Spot) and James Forrest will provide a lot of pace, work the left and right touchlines and spread the pitch, opening up space for runs from Ryan Christie and our hero Callum McGregor in central midfield. It’s a good spot for Morgan, who was rumoured to Hibs or St Mirren on loan but hasn’t gone yet. Scott Brown will start and hopefully impose himself in a more positive fashion – Celtic can’t afford to let Airdrie get too settled in defence.
Finally, it comes to pass that Celtic have two midfielders named Oliver; French Ollie is dealing with a hamstring issue (perhaps the precursor excuse prior to a move to Portugal?!). Scottish Ollie will certainly make the bench as the only other fit and present midfielder (Tom Rogic is still lighting up the dregs of the Asian Football Confederation, so he’ll miss out on this match too. Hate international football!). You should also see Ajer and Mikey Johnston play a part at some point.
Key Points to Watch:
- Can Airdrie pull an upset? It’s impossible to think that they can command very much of the ball at Celtic Park, so they will come in with the famous plan of tough defending in-depth, and hoping that Celtic don’t have their shooting boots on. A 0-0 and a replay at the plastic-pitched New Broomfield would certainly suit them, but their strikers will be prepared this Saturday to take advantage of defensive lapses.
- Celtic’s fitness. Whom will Brendan Rodgers be able to call on Saturday? The condition of Lustig and Benkovic, who both came off injured on 29 December, as well as Edouard are going to be more important in subsequent matches but they will be watched carefully in this one.
- Referee watch: Sound the Andrew Dallas klaxon!! The inevitable black hole at the nexus of ineptitude and nepotism, Dallas will carefully swallow his whistle as Celtic players are hacked, pulled and booted. I would have thought the SFA would save him for a later round, but here you have it.
- The new bhoys. With injury problems (Edouard) and competence problems (Sinclair, Brown) there are a number of places in the starting eleven for the new January signings – or certainly Morgan or Johnston to cement their places.
Celtic 3, Airdrie 0
The original match poster is by Frankie Mitchell. You can buy a print of it and all of Frankie’s other fabulous Celtic artwork at her online shop