G for Grim
Artificial surfaces get a bad rap. What they do is provide players and managers with easy excuses and pundits with worn clichés. This writer, given the option, would prefer to play on artificial pitches, they are more forgiving when trying to control the ball. The downside is the pesky pellets, of course.
Like a grass pitch, however, you get good artificial pitches and you get bad ones. Motherwell have shown the quality of grass pitch you can have if you treat with care and affection. If you fail to maintain an artificial surface it becomes worn and sticky. It requires regular brushing and watering and that is just the simple tasks in its upkeep.
Which brings us to Rugby Park. We can only speculate to how much care and affection it is given, but these last few weeks have been a cry for help. If it could talk it wouldn’t say much due to all the screaming.
Players just don’t seem to enjoy playing on it. Behind closed doors some Killie players have expressed their frustration with it. It is worn, with both goalmouths appearing to have been through a long and wild winter, while the bounce on the pitch is so unpredictable that players are either hesitant to attack the ball or simply, and comically, running underneath it.
Lee McCulloch has talked about a desire to play a passing game with his youthful side. It will be tougher with such a surface.
With Patrick Roberts’ signing imminent, it was a timely goal scoring performance from the winger playing in a central striking role.
It wasn’t a crucial performance, with the 26-year-old a trusted performer by Brendan Rodgers. The manager likes his diligence in performing a wide role, which at times can be a wing-back. He offers pace, width and penetration which is imperative to a side which dominates the ball as much as Celtic. He is a useful operator in both domestic and European matches.
The signing of Jonny Hayes appeared to be a replacement for Roberts. But with Roberts set to return that will have an affect on Forrest’s game time.
Yet, what Forrest has shown is that he is another option to play through the middle. Rodgers has spoken of recruiting another striker but it wouldn’t be such an issue if he didn’t get a player who he felt was sufficient.
Forrest was bright and lively throughout his time on the pitch. He looked more comfortable in the position than he did in Rosenborg. He was varying his movement, stretching play, opening the pitch for Tom Rogic, while also dropping off linking play, dragging defenders up the park. It was unfortunate that few of his team mates were making opposite runs into the spaces he was creating.
Some of his link play was rusty at times but it was a competent performance, displaying the qualities which will give Rodgers confidence if he does have to rely on Forrest on the domestic front.
He has already netted three times this season, showing great striking movement to open the scoring at Rugby Park. He should be targeting topping last season’s eight strikes and breaking into double figures for the first time in his career,
Kieran Tierney, Scotland centre-back?
Why play your best player out of position? A daft suggestion perhaps. Well, it has already happened for Scotland. Twice.
He has already played twice as a centre-back this season for Celtic and looks a natural in the position. The caveat is that both games were against a Kilmarnock who were kept at arm’s length for 180 minutes so he wasn’t pressed into the amount of action he would be if at the centre of Scotland’s defence.
But the question which should be posed: are any of Gordon Strachan’s options that much better?
He is strong, robust, technically sound and quick. He may not have the aerial presence of a Christophe Berra for example, but on the international scene it is unlikely he will suffer an aerial bombardment.
Up against the wily Kris Boyd, he didn’t give the goal plunderer a sniff. He wasn’t bullied and he wisely refused to get into a physical battle with the striker. Tierney showed the experience of a player who has more than 200 games under his belt, as he has done since coming into the Celtic team a couple of seasons back.
If Strachan was to continue with the back three, Tierney is a certainty for the left-sided centre-back position. But if he reverts to a back four it should certainly come under consideration. It would be one way to have Andy Robertson and the exceptional Kieran Tierney in the same team.
Dicker’s midfield mettle
Lee McCulloch has built a youthful and vibrant squad at Kilmarnock. Pressed into playing youngsters last season after Lee Clark’s fateful and fruitless recruitment drive of players he found on the corner of English clubs looking for a game, the likes of Iain Wilson, Greg Taylor and Adam Frizzell gained crucial experience.
Understandably there was optimism for the season ahead. But they have started with three league defeats, humbling in the Betfred Cup to Celtic and also embarrassment in the defeat to tier three rivals Ayr United.
A common theme runs through all the defeats: No Gary Dicker.
They missed him in midfield last season but that was because he was marshalling the defence alongside Kristoffer Ajer, who was on the opposite side on Saturday afternoon. Both players were capable of stepping out of defence, giving the team a drive from deep. Wilson also impressed with his composure in midfield.
With Wilson playing in defence and Dicker missing altogether, Killie midfield is lightweight, lacks a controlling presence and is a bit too flimsy. Opposition sides will look at Killie’s midfield and they simply won’t be cowed. They will see one which can be dominated.
The sooner Dicker is back in midfield and partnered with Wilson it will give Killie a much more robust spine. Not only are they two sound football players, but they will bring a presence and free up Killie’s sprightly attacker. In stages they displayed the pace which they possess and will hurt teams. But they need direction in the centre of midfield.
Pinch of salt
When Heart of Midlothian played Celtic Jon Daly spoke of how the team would not be judged on their result and performance at the champions. It is a defeatist attitude which shows a startling lack of ambition. BUT it is completely understandable. It’s likely the attitude of most managers in the top flight.
Even with six changes and a back four with an average age of 19 Celtic strolled to victory. There was a positivity about the team with the fresh and young players. However, it’s one of many matches where they could play with a complete indifference but still ease to three points.
During Ronny Deila’s two years in charge both Old Firm teams lacked the fear factor of old. Celtic have well and truly got it back.
Open up against Celtic and the pace and precision will see them cut through out. An example was Hearts at Tynecastle last season under Ian Cathro. They went toe-to-toe and the bang-bang were behind and the game was done. Sit back, defend and hold for as long as possible and they will eventually pick you apart. Eventually.
So it is within reason any judgements are required to be taken with a pinch of salt when they’ve played Celtic.
Tom Rogic is an incredible footballer. Slick, incisive and silky. At times - at times - he can appear to be playing within himself. He has velvet feet, a strong frame and no shortage of power. But sometimes - sometimes - you want him to just open up an devastate teams.
But, in the main, he is just a sublime football player. The way he moves with the ball, turning, dropping the shoulder, shifting the ball from left to right, right to left to evade challenges. Two assists and many more to come.
And a quick word on Anthony Ralston and Calvin Miller. Both were full of endeavour and slotted in seamlessly. The one upside of Celtic’s dominance is the possibility of seeing young Scottish talent getting more game time for the champions.