And The Lack Of It…
Yesterday, Arbroath earned themselves a draw at Celtic Park with a late equaliser. Whilst this upset will result in an away trip to Gayfield Park for Celtic, the “Red Lichties” are not the first side to take something from the East End of Glasgow this season.
As of today, Celtic have played a total of twenty seven competitive matches thus far this season, with fourteen of these coming at Celtic Park. Of these fourteen matches, Celtic have won eight, losing only twice. However, three of these wins (HJK Helsinki, Helsingborgs, and Barcelona) have been European victories. Impressively, the Club remain undefeated at home in Europe this season.
In the Scottish Premier League, the Hoops have only managed to win 43% of their home matches, whilst winning over over 60% of their matches away from home. Only Kilmarnock and Inverness Caledonian Thistle have walked away the victors at Celtic Park, but Hibernian, St Johnstone, and now Arbroath have managed to leave Celtic Park with a point (as have Benfica in European competition).
Goals have been incredibly hard to come by at home in the league season, with only seven goals being scored in seven matches. Whilst Celtic did put four past Raith Rovers and five past St Johnstone in the Scottish League Cup, they haven’t scored more than two goals in the league at Celtic Park since mid-May.Defensively, they’ve only conceded one more league goal away from home than they have at Celtic Park, but they have scored three times as many on their travels.
Whilst, on the whole, things are going well and I am unequivocal in my support of the manager, this is of some concern. The question many are asking with regards to this enigma is simply, “why is it happening?”
Several contributory theories have been voiced; tiredness, complacency, inexperience, tactics, nerves, and even the absence of the Green Brigade over the last two matches! Some people have discussed a “Jekyll and Hyde” style personality with regards to the current Celtic team, and in some senses, I feel they have a case.
This season, it has often been clear within the first ten or fifteen minutes whether the Hoops have been “on it” or not. There is a fluidity, confidence and poise that comes with a good performance, and this has been most evident at away grounds domestically. Of course, there have been away days (such as the trip to Perth) where this has not been the case.
However, whenever Celtic aren’t on form, you can usually tell within the first few minutes of the match. The team look flat, stale, and increasingly devoid of ideas as the game progresses. They resort to shots from distance out of frustration, as they know that, despite the fact they cannot make it happen at the time, they are the best team in the country.
Personally, while I feel some of the factors (not all) listed above are of some merit, increasingly I am beginning to wonder how much we are truly missing Anthony Stokes? Together with Gary Hooper, the pair have terrorised Scottish defences for some time now, and yet recently, with Hooper being presented with a different strike partner on an almost weekly basis, he has been poor by his high standards in many domestic matches.
The talent in the squad is undoubtedly present. Recent results against Barcelona and Spartak Moscow have shown this to be the case yet again. However, consistency, especially at home in domestic competitions, has been hard to come by. As we look ahead to Wednesday’s clash against Spartak, we are all too aware that the supporters will rock Celtic Park yet again. In all likelihood, regardless of the result, the team will be right up for it as well, and we all hope they will be successful.
However, when we come back down to Earth with trips to Rugby Park and Gayfield, and a home match against St Mirren, which Celtic team will run out of the tunnel? The side who’ve made a remarkable impact on the European stage, or the side who drew with Second Division opposition? The side who beat the greatest team on Earth, or the side who lost to Inverness last week?
In my day to day life, I’m a well known pessimist. However, when it comes to Celtic, I’m actually quite the opposite. I have faith that the manager, his staff, and the team themselves will click once more at Celtic Park and the wins will come, but until that happens, it’s an issue that is well worthy of discussion.
Onto Wednesday and, hopefully, onto the knock out rounds of Europe’s premier footballing competition!