John Hughes believes that Celtic will wrap up nine-in-a-row this season but only if they make the right moves in this month’s transfer window.
While he believes that rivals Rangers will be content with their squad and their ability to take the title challenge to the wire, the former Celtic defender says the defending champions will need to recruit if they want to be sure of getting the job done.
Top of the list is another striker, with Hughes claiming it would be foolish to head into the second half of the season with the goal-scoring onus weighing so heavily on Odsonne Edouard, and too much of a risk to expect Leigh Griffiths to finally bounce back and offer the kind of competition or back-up they are likely to require with Rangers breathing down their necks.
And whoever comes in has to be ready to hit the ground running and be able to handle the stress that is a constant presence in both camps.
“It’s 50/50 because of the history of nine-in-a-row and then the quest for ten,” said Hughes, when asked who is under the most pressure as history looms – the team hoping to write their names in the history books or the men charged with denying them that honour. “Celtic stopped it under Wim Jansen and it’s on the agenda again over 20 years later. That’s what they are all thinking about.”
Hughes knows what that is like, having been part of that Celtic squad trying to prevent the Rangers run of dominance in the 1990s. “It will be massive what both clubs do in the window now,” he added. “I think Celtic will bring in two or three, I’m not sure Rangers need two or three.
“Steven Gerrard [the Rangers manager] picks from the same pool of 13 or 14 players and it’s a wee bit like how Liverpool play. Three midfielders in there, they know their jobs and you have the two wingers, [Joe] Aribo and [Ryan] Kent, playing narrow. If Rangers are going to bring someone in then he has to be better than what they’ve got.”
But Celtic, who came up short against Rangers in the last outing before the winter shutdown, will have to use the next couple of weeks to reassess and address their weaknesses as they aim to keep their noses in front.
Hughes believes manager Neil Lennon has already pinpointed the tactical chinks in his team’s Old Firm armour but says he needs to strengthen the point of attack as well.
A huge fan of Griffiths, he is worried that a reliance on the Scotland striker in the second half of the season, given his off-field problems and injury issues, could prove costly.
“I’m always worried about Griff with that calf problem and maybe Celtic do need to bring in another striker. He has had his problems and I’ve played with guys who have their problems. Usually, when they are on the pitch they feel safe, no one can touch them and they are doing something they love.”
A fully-fit Griffiths could negate the need for a transfer window shopping spree but with just three goals this term and only one start since August, relying on him to be the key difference in a tense title run-in would be a major risk given the prize at stake. But, having netted over 100 goals during his Celtic career, while he advises getting fail safes in place, Hughes said it would be folly to write off a player who has proved he can make a vital contribution.
“Three or four years ago he scored 40 goals and you think he’ll do that every season, but it doesn’t happen like that. If Griff can get himself back fit and back to that level then Celtic wouldn’t need another striker. He’s the answer, but he needs to get himself fit and injury free. If he can get himself fit then he can shoot Celtic to the title but it’s getting back to the standards he set himself in the past when he scored the goals against England.
“I would never give up on Griff because he has that talent. He’s a goalscorer and he’ll never lose it. But I very much doubt he’ll get back to that 40-goals-a-season level because of the injury problems he’s had. For that reason I still think Celtic will bring in one or two to take them to where they want to go.”
l John Hughes was speaking at a William Hill media event. William Hill is a proud sponsor of the Scottish Cup.