The constipated nature of Celtic’s football this season has been blamed on bunged-up strikers in the club’s ranks. There may have been a certain justification to that, but the issue wasn’t as straightforward as might have initially appeared... even before Leigh Griffiths’ dramatic late goalscoring cameo.
Going into last night’s Europa League opener against Rosenborg, there was no doubt that Odsonne Edouard badly needed a goal. With only one in his previous five starts, Celtic’s most expensive signing has hardly been paying off in goals. Yet, the fact the 20-year-old Frenchman retained his place at the apex of Celtic’s attack against the Norwegians told its own story about how the season so far has shaped up, or hasn’t, for Griffiths. The Scotland international has bagged only two goals in his five starts. At the corresponding stage last season, he had netted six times.
It might be further sprinkled into the mix that Moussa Dembele spent the previous night warming the bench for Lyon as they slayed English champions Manchester City at their own home.
The last time Celtic faced a European home game, he wasn’t a near £20 million move agitator but a hot option for Rodgers.
The facts would seem to tell of forward line failings for Celtic that have eroded their effectiveness. Except that, when all seemed so much rosier 12 months ago as Champions League group football was secured and beatings were being handed out on the domestic front where now blanks are being drawn, the strikers were providing pretty much the same returns. At this stage last season, nine goals had been plundered by those occupying frontline positions. That figure is eight goals this season.
Rodgers alighted on the issue ahead of Rosenborg’s visit when he conceded that his team were not doing enough in the final third but that a key element in that was the service being provided.
As Celtic struggled to break down the Norwegians, clear openings offered up to Edouard were notably thin on the ground. Just before half-time he was given a glimpse of goal, but that was the result of keeper Andre Hansen beating out a Tom Rogic effort into his path. The Frenchman was unfortunate that Hansen was able to divert his low dig on to the upright.
It was instructive that James Forrest and Rogic were withdrawn midway through the second period as Celtic became increasingly unsuccessful at finding a way through their opponents’ defences. Such creative support players, so often matchwinners for Rodgers in his first two seasons, are toiling to provide such penetrative moments this season and Celtic are becoming much diminished as a consequence.
The need for a goal forced Rodgers to turn to Griffiths late on in place of Edouard. And, wouldn’t you just know – in a week when he has bemoaned not starting for Scotland and then had his club manager question his application – the change pre-empted the case of a Celtic striker striking back courtesy of his late headed winner.
At least in the immediate term, it was a goal that flushed away any forward line concerns.