John Kennedy determined to solve set-piece flaws against Rangers as interim manager lifts lid on Celtic flop

John Kennedy is confident Celtic can overcome their set-piece demons against Rangers ahead of tomorrow's Scottish Cup fourth round tie at Ibrox.

Celtic interim manager John Kennedy hopes to have solved his side's recent susceptibility at set-pieces against Rangers (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)

The interim manager is conscious that his side’s shortcoming when defending set-plays against their rivals could become a psychological issue. He doesn't want his defenders turning into quivering wrecks each time they face a free-kick or corner. However, he has sought to identify ways to address a long-standing stumbling block in Old Firm meetings.

Celtic’s recent improvement in defence has been stark. They are not losing many goals at all, from set-pieces or otherwise. They have conceded just once in their last five outings.

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But that was from a corner and it was against Rangers in the recent 1-1 draw. Indeed, the Ibrox side’s last five goals against their rivals have been sourced from set-pieces. The run stretches back to Niko Katic’s winner at Celtic Park in December 2019.

It’s clear Kennedy’s game plan tomorrow is based on defensive soundness. Stephen Welsh, who signed a new until 2025 earlier this week, is forming a promising partnership with Kristoffer Ajer in the centre of defence, while Jonjoe Kenny has been assured on the right.

Kennedy’s only decision fitness permitting is at left-back, where Greg Taylor and Diego Laxalt are vying for a place. Kennedy was direct when asked the secret behind his side's recent improvement when defending set-pieces.

“Not giving so many away!” he said. He concedes Celtic are not the biggest or most aggressive team and so have to make up for these shortcomings in other ways. Organisation at set-plays is an ongoing project.

“We’ve been doing that this week, just as we have in previous weeks,” he said. “It’s something we’ll continue to work on. But we don’t want to create a huge issue of it, where people are afraid of what the consequences might be.You’ve just got to trust it, believe in what you’re doing, know what your role is within that system – and try to carry it out to the best of your abilities.

“It has cost us in previous games against Rangers, because the majority of the goals have come from those moments, whether it be first or second phase,” he added. “And we’re well aware of that. We controlled the games well against Rangers but, at those decisive moments, we’ve had lapses in concentration. We want to address that, make sure that’s not the case on Sunday. Then we can concentrate on going up the other end and causing them problems.”

Meanwhile, Kennedy has described Patryk Klimala’s imminent move to New York Red Bull as one that was “not difficult” to turn down – for the club and striker. Although Kennedy’s own future at the club is uncertain, he was involved in the discussion to end the striker’s Celtic career and gave the green light to his move to the United States. Klimala scored just three times for the club.

“It was a discussion around it between myself and obviously Peter (Lawwell) and the board,” he confirmed. “Patryk was part of it too obviously. He wanted that opportunity. He’s come in and been here over a year now and there’s not been a lot of opportunities for him. Again, it was one that made sense. It wasn’t too difficult a decision.”

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