THERE are many ways of looking at Celtic’s defeat by Premiership leaders Inverness yesterday.
Inverness Caledonian Thistle - 1 O’Connell 65og
Celtic - 0
Man of the match: Ross Draper (Inverness) A powerful and committed display.
Talking point: Celtic didn’t score in a league match for the first time since December 2012.
Referee: B Madden. Attendance: 5,862
One is that Ronny Deila, three league games in to his tenure, has now lost as many top flight encounters as his predecessor Neil Lennon did in the previous 38-game campaign. The other is that the Norwegian will care not a jot about the outcome yesterday in the long run.
The Highland encounter was a nuisance of a fixture to fulfil between the season-defining Champions League play-off ties against Maribor for Delia – and the fact that only Charlie Mulgrew was retained from the team that had drawn 1-1 in Slovenia betrayed that.
Of course, the Celtic manager said differently as he expressed his disappointment at the result he “wanted to win”, while acknowledging his obvious prioritising of the Maribor return.
Indeed, asked if he regretted his starting selection – after he made reference to bringing “too many players in at one time” – Deila immediately responded: “You will see on Tuesday if I regret it or not,” later stating “of course” when asked if Champions League qualification would make it worth the sacrifice.
The result may not have thrilled Celtic fans, but it was a scoreline good for the Scottish game’s credibility. John Hughes’ side may not have been scintillating, as their manager acknowledged, but at least they were good enough to capitalise on the breaks that came their way. Deila praised them for producing a performance that showed why they have ten points from four games. They deserve commendation for not going weak at the knees against a seriously weakened Celtic side. Deila did not take issue with his line-up being called “a gamble that backfired”. “You could say that,” he said, confirming that Serbian striker Stefan Skepovic remained an option the club was pursuing while visa issues were delaying Ghanian Wakaso Mubarak’s loan move from Rubin Kazan.
Yet there were no gambles for Celtic at the Caledonian Stadium. He could have dragged a troop of punters off a supporters’ bus, and it would have been no gamble. The unimpressive efforts of such as keeper Lukasz Zaluska – far from clever in the lead-up to Eoghan O’Connell’s own goal – Filip Twardzik, Dylan McGeouch weren’t a world away from those that might have been derived from eager strangers, and perhaps told of how perennial squad status can wither players.
Not that such as Teemu Pukki and Leigh Griffiths covered themselves in glory. After Nir Bitton had cracked a placed-effort off the underside of the crossbar from close range, Pukki and Griffiths, either side of the interval, failed to find the target when sent through on goal.
Deila’s determination to minimise the effects of knocks or fatigue on the players he will select on Tuesday perhaps wasn’t predicted to result in the wholesale changes witnessed in the Highlands. Yet, the fact is that it would have been a greater surprise more had he sent out ten of his line-up in Slovenian as opposed to left out ten.
In an effort to change the complexion of a team he said “wasn’t effective enough” in taking first-half chances, Deila sent on favoured players Stefan Johansen and Callum McGregor for Twardzik and Pukki.
It was Inverness who started to prove more progressive, and though they ended the contest well, the decisive goal in 65 minutes came from nowhere. A curling low centre from the right by Marley Watkins towards Billy McKay led to a rash Zaluska palming the cross out uncertainly, the ball cannoning of O’Connell and straight back past the Polish keeper. “It is hard to say, I will need to see it again,” was Deila’s response when asked if his keeper was at fault. The Norwegian is unlikely to want to see again a Celtic starting XI quite like the one he fielded yesterday.