Craig Fowler gives his take on Celtic’s victory at Ross County. A result achieved despite eight changes in the Celtic starting XI.
Celtic’s strength in depth is seriously impressive
Considering the wealth disparity, there’s never an excuse for Celtic failing to pick up three points against most teams in this league. Even if you rotate the entire team out, the players coming in are still paid more handsomely, and should therefore be better than their opponents on more humble wage packets. At least, that’s how it plays out on paper, but there are so many other variables to take into account in practice. The team, for example, has never played together before other than on the training ground. So there’s issues with communication, understanding and timing. Then there’s the subliminal message placed by making so many changes. While the guys coming in have a desire to impress, their boss has just told them the game doesn’t mean as much. Same goes for the guys who remain in the team. Then there’s the opposition. They’ve seen a formidable opponent become a beatable one. It gives them a lift. Therefore, considering all that, tonight’s win was still fairly impressive, even if it is what’s expected of Celtic’s players.
It wasn’t a thoroughly dominant performance, as the storyline would indicate, and the starting XI did leave them a little vulnerable defensively, but you cannot argue with a 4-0 victory, especially when the whole squad could have been forgiven for experiencing a post-Old Firm comedown.
County severely underperform in defence
Andrew Davies is one of the league’s better centre backs. He was included in the team of the year last season. Not only is he strong at his position, he’s a natural captain. A leader of men. And yet, throughout his spell in Dingwall, Ross County have never had a strong defence. They leaked goals last season and they are shipping them in with alarming consistency this term.
That’s not to blame Davies, at least not entirely. It’s often been the fault of those around him, or tactics which have left the back four vulnerable. He’s also never really had a partner he’s properly gelled with. On paper, he and Paul Quinn should make a fine pairing, but it’s never worked out.
Both of them were made to look foolish at Celtic’s opening goal. Patrick Roberts tore past Davies in the open field, while Quinn made the bizarre decision to continue backing off until after Roberts had picked his spot and passed the ball into the bottom corner.
Stuart Armstrong’s future belongs as a No.8
Brendan Rodgers sees the former Dundee United man as the team’s playmaker at the No.10 role, and he does appear to be second in line behind Tom Rogic. Rodgers is probably right with regards to domestic competition. However, if Armstrong is to grow to the standard where Rodgers wants to take the team, by having them compete on the continent, it’s doubtful whether he’s quite got the technical attributes to shine in the role. He’s a good technical player by SPFL standards. But in Europe, you have to be as good as Rogic in that regard.
Playing further back, as he did against Rangers on Sunday and last night, allows him to use more of his attributes to greater use. Armstrong is terrific at running with the ball. It’s why he’s often been used on the wings. He strides forward with purpose, using his strength and athleticism as much as his skill to dribble around opponents. If he can use his physicality to more effective use - basically become a bit of a d*** - then he could dominate both on and off the ball from further back. He would also need to work on his defensive game, but these are all things that can be improved upon.
Craig Gordon’s erratic streak continues
This sweeper-keeper thing must be getting to Gordon. He’s always been a goalkeeper who plays it safe. He rarely comes off his line at corners, never mind for anything else. And yet, it’s twice now in the last few weeks he’s come sprinting from his line and gone all Praying Mantis on an opposing player. However, contrary to what many have said, it’s not a red card.
Let me post an exert from our article looking at the challenge from the Alloa game. “The tackle looks really bad on first viewing, but when you break it down, it’s wild but not particularly dangerous... it’s a ridiculous mid-air trip rather than a kung fu kick.” These articles are written with the help of a former fully qualified referee. This writer hasn’t had the chance to speak with the referee yet, so I can’t know for sure, but I’m fairly certain that will be his answer on this one. Gordon tried his best to withdraw from the challenge and, in the end, the contact was a knee on the shoulder. It’s strange, certainly, but there’s no excessive force and it’s not particularly dangerous. Had he actually caught Liam Boyce at the neck or head it would have been, but he didn’t.
Boyce’s surprising return a boost for County
In addition to being leaky in defence, County have the worst goals scored record in the league right now. While Liam Boyce’s return didn’t help them get on the scoresheet against Celtic, there’s little doubt the team as a collective were a greater threat in and around the opposing penalty area than recent weeks. Boyce’s return should help them get back up to speed, especially when he develops more of an understanding with Ryan Dow and Chris Burke.
With all the talent in the County first-team, the Staggies should really be doing a lot better than to sit a point above the relegation play-off spot. The heat right now is on Paul Hartley. If he goes, or if Dundee turn their fortunes around, pressure will soon shift to Jim McIntyre.