John Kennedy accuses Pat Bonner of promoting untruths about Celtic's defensive coaching

There is no escaping the inadequacies that have bedevilled Celtic’s defending from set-pieces and crosses this season.

Celtic assistant John Kennedy (centre) insists the club's management team of manager Neil Lennon (left), and coach Gavin Strachan have not skimped on working hard on the team's defensive structure at their Lennoxtown training ground as former player Pat Bonner has suggested. (Photo by Giuseppe Maffia / SNS Group)
Celtic assistant John Kennedy (centre) insists the club's management team of manager Neil Lennon (left), and coach Gavin Strachan have not skimped on working hard on the team's defensive structure at their Lennoxtown training ground as former player Pat Bonner has suggested. (Photo by Giuseppe Maffia / SNS Group)

Indeed, it was all-too-apt that it should be an own goal from a corner that caused their downfall in a derby they dominated at new year to leave them trailing Rangers by 22 points going into their home meeting with Hibs.

Assistant manager John Kennedy doesn’t attempt to shy away from the problems that have scarred a bruising campaign. Yet, the 37-year-old takes issue with former Celtc keeper Pat Bonner’s recent claim that the backline “shambles” that has afflicted Neil Lennon’s men “suggests they need to work harder on the training ground.”

As a former centre-back, Kennedy appears offended by the implication that the club’s management are proving lax in their coaching clinics, and accuses one of Celtic’s storied performers of promoting lazy mistruths.

“This is someone who is not in the know in terms of how we work on a daily basis,” Kennedy said. “It’s a throwaway comment we’ve heard a number of times this season from people who don’t understand the process of our training or the way we work. It might be a throwaway comment but it can be dangerous as then it becomes public opinion. But I can assure it’s not the truth.”

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It might be thought that Kennedy, with his footballing background, would take personally Celtic’s central defensive flaws. Instead, it is the very notion that seems to offend him. “I don’t take it personally,” he said. “There’s a lot more aspects of the game I look at as a coach at the club. The defence is something we’ve had an issue with. There’s no hiding from that and it is something we are trying to address. We’ve worked very hard at eradicating the problems and it’s something we’ll continue to work on.

“It’s not one specific. It’s not just balls in to the box or set plays, it’s things leading up to that and we are looking to improve. We’ve had a number of challenges, like a lot of clubs, and we’ve found it difficult to get a settled side for a number of reasons, whether it’s the back four or goalkeeper.”

Against the Easter Road side, Celtic will need to rejig their defence once more. Shane Duffy is unavailable through requiring to isolate after leaving the club’s bubble in Dubai early for personal reasons. Nir Bitton is suspended following his straight red card at Ibrox, while Christopher Jullien is out for four months with a knee ligament problem. It could mean a return for young defender Stephen Welsh, and demonstrates the pressing need for the recruitment of a centre-back in the window, a possible loan return for Filip Benkovic coming to nothing after the Leicester City defender agreed a temporary deal to join OH Leuven.

“As much as we’d like to have a settled team, we work and train with the players so that if they need to come in or out it’s as seamless as possible,” added Kennedy, who said there were no plans to recall Jack Hendry early from a successful loan stint with Oostende. “Dubai was a good working week with each other so there are a number of different combinations of players who can play together.”

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