Celtic turned away a fightback from Partick Thistle to record a just-about deserved 2-1 victory at Firhill. The squad has been stretched in defence for a while, and now shortages in midfield called for Scott Brown to start on the right side of midfield, reminiscent of the “lop-sided” 4-4-2 that grew to prominence between 2010 and 2012.
Joe Ledley is still getting back to full fitness joining Beram Kayal in the centre, while Georgios Samaras started on the left wing. Anthony Stokes and Teemu Pukki resumed their misfiring partnership, while Charlie Mulgrew was rested.
Alan Archibald made no changes to the side that beat Inverness CT 2-1 last weekend, a surprising win where number 9 Kris Doolan grabbed both goals.
As per the Ajax game, the 2013/14 Celtic style has become increasingly direct. While the Dutchmen were expected to dominate possession as is their style, teams like Partick have been able to win an unprecedented amount of the ball.
This comes with having 3 similar midfielders in Brown, Ledley and Kayal who are all predominantly high-energy, quick-turnover type players. Win possession, get the ball to the forwards as quick as possible. This made for a mixed outlook on Stokes and Pukki who on the one hand each had very good chances each to score, and both – though hitting the target – were a bit unlucky in that former Celtic youth Scott Fox made good saves. Then on the other hand, it was an afternoon of chasing lost causes and difficult long passes, which isn’t ideal when both prefer short quick passes to feet.
Celtic’s directness and inability to hold on to the ball allowed Partick significant good spells. Rumoured transfer target Aaron Taylor-Sinclair made headway down the left twice getting the better of Lustig, though the final ball was lacking.
Such was the pressure that you might describe Partick as dominating, for a period in the first-half. At this stage however, Kallum Higginbotham – the main creative force in midfield hadn’t hit his stride, and so Celtic coped alright.
The goal came from a corner no less and Celtic’s first from a corner since Mikael Lustig against Cliftonville in the first game of the season (alternatively, first goal from a corner in 160 attempts!). Izaguirre’s fine ball was tapped in by Samaras on the edge of the 6-yard in an example of poor defending. The goal took the sting out of Partick as Celtic probed for another.
Brown’s inclusion on the right was intriguing – he’s obviously not a true winger in the Forrest or McGeouch style, but he still gets forward into attacking areas in the inside channel. He likes to press hard, play his way inside and offer the strikers something.
Higginbotham had a great spell in the middle period which culminated in the equaliser, being central to most of Partick’s threat. It was his smart movement into the box and then snap cross with the outside of his boot that helped Doolan on for his 4th goal in 4 games.
Along with some dodgy refereeing (don’t let people say it was one incorrect offside call each, Celtic’s was a stonewall penalty while Partick’s was out on the wing and merely in a decent position), the equaliser seemed harsh on Celtic, who didn’t seem to uncomfortable (aside from one or two Efe Ambrose moments).
By the time the lead was restored, Pukki and Kayal came off for Amido Balde and McGeouch. Brown moved central retaining the same shape. Much maligned left-back Izaguirre closed down Sean Welsh on the half-way and the resulting loose ball worked it’s way to Balde one-on-one with Aaron Muirhead. Balde simply went around the outside and got his second goal of the season with his left foot.
This ramps up the competition for a place up front, with both he and Pukki desperate for goals right now. In one sense there was luck involved, with Partick caught completely out of position by Izaguirre’s tackle and release, but at the same time it’s impossible to say if Pukki carries the same speed and power to go past a defender one-on-one like that.
“He is going to play a lot more as the season progresses” said Lennon after the game, so the pressure is on Pukki and indeed Stokes.
Samaras’ injury towards the end was a reminder of how depleted the squad currently is, so the lack of midweek fixtures this week is a blessing ahead of Ajax in Amsterdam.