Sunday, May 08, 2011

SPL Today: Celtic Demand Bouncebackabilty

The picture of Neil Lennon booting a bottle of water during Celtic's defeat to Inverness spoke volumes.

Which of his underperforming players was he metaphorically kicking up the backside?

Was this Celtic's bottle crashing?

Football teams often play badly. They often choose the worst game to show themselves at their worst.

That's what Celtic did on Wednesday night. The water bottle bore the brunt of the manager's understandable frustration.

From a position of strength it is now Celtic who can only win and hope for a slip-up elsewhere.

It's an uncomfortable place to be. And it was self inflicted as they surrendered their game in hand. Inverness is a tricky place to visit. But Celtic made it too hard for themselves and too easy for their opponents.

Onwards then to Kilmarnock this afternoon.

A third visit to Rugby Park for Celtic. A 2-1 in September followed by a 4-0 stroll last month. Sandwiched between the two a 1-1 draw in Glasgow in December.

That draw came in a run when Celtic won only two games out of six. It was the frailties of that sequence that resurfaced against Inverness.

The challenge for Celtic is to ensure that Wednesday night was an isolated stumble. They have to recover from it.

Even a full recovery might not be enough. But right now it's difficult to see how anything less than three wins from the remaining three games will be enough to win the title.

The consensus among Scottish football's pundits was that having more away games gave Celtic the trickier run in.

To get this in perspective Celtic have won a dozen games on their travels this season. They've drawn two and lost three. It's not a shoddy record.

But they've not been as emphatic on the road as they might have been. Only 29 goals scored in those 17 games.

Again that's hardly a poor return. But it compares poorly to the 40 goals Rangers have scored away from Ibrox. Kilmarnock have scored 26 away goals and Hearts 25.

Celtic's travelling success is down to a miserly defence. The three goals scored by Inverness on Wednesday make up more than a quarter of the away goals Celtic have conceded this season.

None of which means that Celtic, who have won 38 points away from Celtic Park, are travelling chumps.

But it does hint at a reliance on a stingy defence. Inverness brought into sharp focus what can happen if that defence goes awol.

In preparation for today's game Lennon will have had to strike a balance between the bollocking his defenders deserved and working on their confidence.

Kenny Shiels will have been impressing on his players the need to guard against the trap of playing nice football without any real thrust. That's left them attractively ineffective against the Old Firm at times this season.

If Celtic's defence are at all rocked by their experience on Wednesday then Kilmarnock have to capitalise on that by, as they say, "getting in their faces."

If they can get enough of the ball. It wasn't just the defenders who underperformed against Inverness. Celtic's midfield need to reassert their authority.

How to impose yourself in midfield when the going gets tough?

The manager should be able to help them out there, a DVD of Neil Lennon's career should do the trick.

Celtic lose games and bounce right back. That's what Old Firm teams do.

Will today be any different? Probably not. But that was a big, big game to lose on Wednesday night. A glance at the league table shows the psychological impact that could have.

If that adds to the nerves then Kilmarnock could benefit.

An away win. But it could be an uncomfortable one.