Why John Kennedy won't accept any praise for Celtic's defensive record

John Kennedy admits he savours good attacking play more than good defensive play but he believes Celtic's rearguard is providing a sound basis for their current title charge.

Not that the assistant manager, a fine central defender in his day before injury forced him into cruelly premature retirement, is taking any credit. He has been bruised by past experiences, including when he stepped up to take over from Neil Lennon amid the wreckage of Celtic’s botched attempt to claim a tenth successive title.

Things are progressing more smoothly now as Celtic eye a treble. They have maintained a nine-point gap between them and Rangers despite their rivals’ own good run. Ange Postecoglou’s side have put together a sequence of eight victories and hope to make it nine this weekend, when Aberdeen are the visitors.

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Celtic have conceded only two goals, one of them from the penalty spot, over the course of this run. As is the case at Rangers, where Connor Goldson and Ben Davies are thriving in the middle of defence, the Parkhead side have benefited from a settled central defensive partnership in Carl Starfelt and Cameron Carter-Vickers, with the latter surely a contender for Scotland’s player of the year.

Celtic assistant John Kennedy during a training session at Lennoxtown. (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)Celtic assistant John Kennedy during a training session at Lennoxtown. (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)
Celtic assistant John Kennedy during a training session at Lennoxtown. (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)

“It’s good to have two strong characters like Cameron and Carl," said Kennedy. "They have been key to the stability at the back. They’ve played a lot together and you can see the relationship blossoming. It will get even better in time. Alongside that we have Yuki (Kobayashi), who has looked good since he has come in, and Stephen Welsh has also contributed a lot as well.

“The squad is in a good place defensively," he added. "There’s been some rotation and changes at times but everyone has come in and contributed. The manager has instilled in the team the fact it doesn’t matter if you play 10 minutes or 90 minutes, you have to contribute to the team.”

It stands to reason, too, that each coach is contributing something. However, Kennedy is too wise – and possibly too stung – to take the opportunity to bask in any acclaim.

“I’ve been here too long to accept any praise!” said Kennedy. “I know what happens next week if we lose a goal or a game! I think sometimes because of the position you played, people relate that area of the game to you. But the focus is very much on improving individuals but also on all areas of the team. My job is to support the manager but a large part of the job I do is on the training pitch, doing analysis, working with the players on a daily basis, along with Gavin (Strachan), Harry (Kewell) and Stevie Woods. We’ve got a very strong staff here who all have a real focus on developing the players."

He pointed out that the defence is just one part of a fully functioning unit. “I get much more excited when the play is at the other end and the team is scoring goals,” said Kennedy. “But a large part of how we play is how we defend as a team. We meet teams head on at the top end of the pitch."



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