Never one to shy away from controversial statements, Chris Sutton exclaimed earlier this week that Celtic would still win the title even if they played without a goalkeeper for the rest of the season.
Host of BBC Five Live Mark Chapman said Sutton had “gone too far”, while Kris Boyd also dismissed Sutton’s opinion. But did he have a point?
Before we get to the matter at hand, we need to try and figure out some context. Does Sutton mean they could play without anyone covering the goal? Because, of course, that would be ridiculous. A team could justifiably shoot every time they crossed halfway. Celtic would lose every game - barring a two-goal comeback against Hamilton.
Seeing as he was discussing Craig Gordon’s potential move to Chelsea, this writer would like to think he meant without a professional (or amateur, for that matter) goalkeeper. And that the team would have some outfield player just minding the sticks.
In this instance it becomes a little different. Most of us can remember Phil Jagielka pulling off some heroics between the posts in a 1-0 win for Sheffield United against Arsenal. Surely, with Dedryck Boyata pulling ‘any man in’ duty and Celtic keeping the opposing team up the other end of the park, they’d pick up some points?
To test this theory, we’ve looked back at Celtic’s season so far and how many shots on target they’ve conceded in relation to the number of goals scored in every individual game.
This is not an exact science. We have no idea how a team would react to the knowledge that the opposing side is going to forego the selection of a goalkeeper in favour of an outfield player sporting a baggy jersey.
At the same time, we can’t see tell exactly how many shots on target would make it around the literal last man of defence. You’d have to think he’d repel at least a couple. Celtic would also adopt a different mindset in their gameplan.
So, in the spirit of balance (and fun), we’ve judged every result on the basis that they would concede a goal from every shot on target.
Here they are...
Hearts (a) - 2-1 win - Six shots conceded on target - lose
St Johnstone (a) - 4-2 win - five shots on target - lose
Aberdeen (h) - 4-1 win - one shot on target - win
Rangers (h) - 5-1 win - two shots on target - win
Inverness (a) - 2-2 draw - five shots on target - lose
Kilmarnock (h) - 6-1 win - two shots on target - win
Dundee (a) - 1-0 win - one shot on target - draw
Motherwell (h) - 2-0 win - four shots on target - lose
Ross County (a) - 4-0 win - five shots on target - lose
Aberdeen (a) - 1-0 win - two shots on target - lose
Inverness CT (h) - 3-0 win - four shots on target - lose
Kilmarnock (a) - 1-0 win - two shots on target - lose
[Edit: this is quite a funk]
Motherwell (a) - 4-3 win - five shots on target - lose
Partick Thistle (a) - 4-1 win - one shot on target - win
Hamilton (h) - 1-0 win - two shots on target - lose
Dundee (h) - 2-1 win - two shots on target - draw
Partick Thistle (h) - 1-0 win - four shots on target - lose
Hamilton (a) - 3-0 win - three shots on target - draw
Ross County (h) - 2-0 win - two shots on target - draw
Rangers (a) - 2-1 win - six shots on target - lose
St Johnstone (h) - 1-0 win - one shot on target - draw
[Edit: they’re turning into Hamilton now]
Hearts (h) - 4-0 win - one shot on target - win
Aberdeen (h) - 1-0 win - two shots on target - lose
So, as you can see, counting every shot on target against them so far this season, Celtic would have 19 points. It’s very poor by Celtic standards, but it still wouldn’t have them bottom of the table (shame on you Inverness).
It’s a paltry 0.826 points per game. Seeing as Chris Sutton made his comments prior to Wednesday’s fixtures, where Celtic defeated Aberdeen, we’ll subtract those three points from Celtic’s real total. We’ll also configure the average to 0.86 points per game.
So, including the Dons game, there are 16 remaining fixtures. 16 x 0.863 = 14 points (if you round up slightly).
Add this to the 64 points Celtic had before the Aberdeen win and, based on their average on our ‘without a goalkeeper’ metrics, you have 78 points.
It should be noted that Celtic won the title in 2013 with only 79 points, but there was no Rangers in the league at the time. Would their enemies have enough to claw back the deficit on this occasion?
Through 22 games (again, prior to Sutton’s comments), Rangers had 42 points. That’s an average of 1.9 per game. Take that figure, multiply by the remaining 16 games and you have 30.5 points, which we can round up to 31 to be fair.
42 + 31 = 73. Which, if you’re paying attention at home, is fewer points than Celtic.
Therefore, Chris Sutton, as the analysis would tell us, is correct. If Celtic played without a goalkeeper, under the parameters explained above, they would still win the title.