Is it Over Yet?
There are certain games that fans and pundits alike can point to and say, “That was a good advertisement for Scottish football”; last week’s thrilling 3-2 win at Ibrox would be one, last seasons 4-3 ding-dong with Motherwell at Fir Park would be another. This was not one of those games. In fact, this was one of those games that could form the basis of a campaign to have football stopped altogether; bitty, scrappy, scruffy it was all of this and less. Yet leagues are won via hard fought results away from home, as the old adage goes; though this wasn’t really that either, considering Motherwell played with a man less from around the 41st minute.
Celtic lined up in our pretty fluid 3-5-2 with Odsonne Edouard and Moussa Dembele hoping to dole out a little more misery after last Sunday’s encouraging cameo. The absence of Kieran Tierney saw Mr. Versatility Callum McGregor shifting over to the left and Jozo’s suspension saw Jack Hendry come in to the three man backline alongside Ajer and Boyata. As you might have expected Celtic started pretty brightly with N’tcham and Rogic in particular showing some neat touches and nice interchanges, clear cut chances were in short supply however.
By the mid-way point of the first half the game was already deteriorating into a bit of a scrappy battle with Celtic probing but not creating much and Motherwell looking to stay solid and counter when they could. In fairness they did register a few attempts though as with the visitors a lot of shots went straight down the throat of the keepers. You kind of got the feeling it might be one of those days.
If the game was a poor advertisement for Scottish football then at least Tom Rogic was a pretty good goddamn advertisement for Tom Rogic. As the game dragged he remained the one man on the pitch who looked likely to create, in a sea of miscontrolled touches and overhit passes he stood out like an imperious prince; all silken touch, intricate footwork and defender-bending turns. True, he can flash in and out of games and Europe,sadly, seems a bridge too far for his talents to be effective but when he is on this kind of form he is an absolute joy to watch; I hope we never sell him, he really almost made this crap passable.
Ooooohing and Aaaaahing at Rogic aside the only other real entertainment came with Kipre’s red card and the ensuing meltdown of the Cash Converters Ultras in that weird little stand of theirs; keep twisting and shouting you crazy diamonds. The sky sports commentary team were also quick to get unreasonably incensed about the red-card incident but this at least helped them push a simple narrative (the kind they like best) where plucky Motherwell showed their ‘bravery’ in search of what would be an ‘amazing result’ – hyperbole from the broadcaster about Scottish football at last, I guess.
The second half was no better – hell you know that, what kind of sadist even reads a report about a game like that? Did we learn anything? Was any of it notable? I think we saw again that James Forrest doesn’t really benefit as much in that 3-5-2 system, he was peripheral today and though he had some nice touches and a couple of runs he was, largely, ineffective. N’tcham started brightly but faded badly which is a feature of his game. He’s young but once we wring some consistency from him he can be a frightening prospect with his rare combination of strength, pace and light touch.
The front 2 didn’t quite work either. Moussa had his chances and some nice linkup play but he had one of his less impressive outings. Also, he’s a bit fat right? Again, once he gets that sharpness and fitness back he’ll be a terrifying prospect, he’s not been close to his form of last season and still looks the best striker we have by a mile. Edouard was less effective; I have heard some people put forward the idea that he’s a more useful player when playing on the counter and after today I can see what they are getting at. He tried hard but not much came off for him until he was replaced by the shadow of last season’s Scott Sinclair.
Chances were made in little batches of control here and there but it really was a game punctuated by poor quality from both sides. Boyata was targeted and continues to look shorn of confidence though in that regard it seems Scott Sinclair is in the same boat, the chance he had towards the end was the type he was gobbling up all last season; this year’s Sinclair delayed that split second and his effort was blocked away. It is worth noting too that Motherwell, to their credit, continued to attack when they could even with 10-men and you might be forgiven for being a little concerned at some of the moments of panic in the Celtic backline in the second half. There’s still work needed there.
On the plus side, Bain was solid again aside from one sclaffed clearance towards the end. He did what he had to with a minimum of fuss. Jack Hendry seemed to keep finding space in the opposition box at corners, he had a few half chances and with a little more composure he could become something we have lacked for a while – a legitimate aerial threat at set pieces.
Patrick Roberts came back too, that was nice as we seem to be in need of some other creative spark, we cannot continue to put it all on Rogic and his magic feet; there’s other players in there more than capable of opening teams up but you get the impression that’s what makes big Tom stand out, he’s always brave enough to try it, always looking to get us forward and hurt the opposition. Up to the final whistle he was still beavering away, trying to create, others in the squad would do well to show the same application for the rest of the run-in.
In the end 0-0 was probably fair reward for Motherwell’s dogs of war act in the second half and particularly for the last 20 minutes. Celtic can and hopefully will do better.