Craig Fowler gives his take after Celtic continue their undefeated domestic run with a victory at Firhill.
Reinforcements are required for Celtic
Not for Scottish football, obviously. Although, this game still highlighted a couple of weakness which will come back to bite them on the continent. Celtic lacked a killer instinct to kill the game off and Bitton unfamiliarity with playing at centre-back almost cost them two points against a Thistle team which didn’t play particularly well. Even if Astana aren’t the team to punish Brendan Rodgers’ side, the goal for this season was to improve in the Champions League group stages once they got there. It’s hard to imagine doing that with a centre-back and striking corps populated by players prone to injury.
Celtic’s aura is an advantage
Partick Thistle barely got out of their own half for the opening 20 minutes. The most disappointing aspect about that from Alan Archibald’s point of view is that it wasn’t like Celtic were swarming all over them, suffocating their play. It was that every time Thistle got the ball with the chance to start something, they immediately gave it right back to the champions.
This is where Celtic are now. Fifty games unbeaten in domestic competition gives them an added advantage just from that slice of knowledge alone. It’s implanted in the mind of the opponent. Even before they went a goal down, the Thistle players seemed wracked with self-doubt.
Even though they lost to Hibs on Saturday at Easter Road, they knocked the ball about with poise and confidence. It was night and day from what was witnessed at Firhill on Friday.
Sure, Celtic’s pressing is a part of it, but rather than steal the ball in advanced areas, they only needed to get near the opposition for it to be hoofed aimlessly in another direction.
Stuart Armstrong needs to clear his head
It may have only been a short cameo, but Armstrong still didn’t look like himself. While most of his team-mates were still streaming forward in search of the second goal which would have killed off the game, he largely seemed content to stay in a deeper role, which isn’t how he usually operates, even when he is stationed further back. What’s more, his passing was wayward again, as he gave the ball away three times in succession following his introduction.
Rodgers has admitted that the ongoing contract situation is getting to the player and it “needs to be sorted one way or another”. Unfortunately, that might not happen any time soon. Armstrong may be unwilling to sign a new deal on Celtic’s terms, and the club may not be willing to sell him for a cut-price fee to an English side.
Similar to what Hearts have done with Jamie Walker, it might be best giving the player a week or two to go away and collect his thoughts. The only problem is the double-header with Astana coming up. Omitting Armstrong from the squad for such a huge tie would be one heck of a gamble, and not one Rodgers is likely to take with so much riding on it.
You need a bit of luck against the champions
Thistle fans lying in their beds last night would have been replaying two moments over and over again: Kris Doolan’s miss and Miles Storey’s penalty claim. Neither of them went the way they would have liked, and both should have.
Doolan’s is a bad miss. He’s completely alone, six yards from goal, and doesn’t even appear to mistime his jump particularly poorly. Somehow, he just got his final effort all wrong.
Storey, meanwhile, successfully picked Bitton’s pocket and should have been awarded a penalty. The Celtic player tripped his opponent and, regardless of whether the fall was exaggerated or not, you could see there was enough contact to impede the striker.
There aren’t going to be many opportunities for teams to take points off the champions this season. This game was an example of that in itself, as Celtic got in enough great positions to kill the game off. But Thistle were right there at the end, and through a combination of bad luck and bad finishing, Thistle may have just passed on their opportunity.
Miles Storey adds a bit of quality
Signed earlier in the day, the striker can feel a little hard done by not to have started the match in light of his cameo after replacing Kris Doolan. Storey has pace, skill and, as evidenced by his spell in Inverness two seasons ago, he can score goals. Maybe it was too much to ask that he start in place of local hero Doolan, but it was odd to see Conor Sammon immediately inserted into the side instead.
Regardless, the double signing will help the club going forward. In Storey, they have a quality talent who’s got a point to prove having failed to establish himself at Aberdeen. He should be able to push Doolan for the starting striker role. And while Sammon doesn’t look capable of ever again becoming the goal machine we all witnessed in the first half of the 2010-11 season, his height and aerial ability does give Archibald a different option.