Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Strachan's Lieutenants Shoot Him in the Foot

It is one of the feebler excuses in sport to have to resort to, and it doesn't cover adequately the explanations for Celtic's difficult opening to the season, but hasn't Gordon Strachan had a rotten run of luck? Starting with his predecessor's final game, when the SPL title was dropped like a bar of soap in a prison shower, and with equally dire consequences- namely that his ill-prepared and new-look side ran into a mid-summer central European ambush in the form of Artmedia Bratislava (who last night, to rub salt in the wounds, progressed to the Champions League proper via a penalty shoot out victory over Partizan Belgrade). On the same night Chris Sutton, arguably one of the most influential players at the club, sustained a facial injury following a collision with his own team mate, Neil Lennon, which has ruled him out since.

Then, after several weeks of steady rehabilitation, Strachan's team encountered their first big test at Ibrox last Saturday. All seemed to be going well, with Celtic playing in a controlled fashion and making the better chances, until Alan Thompson's temperament, an increasing liability in recent times, propelled him like an Exocet across the Govan sky and into the hind quarters of Nacho Novo. As bad as the tackle was, all inside Ibrox anticipated another in the traditional slew of yellow cards- that was until referee Stuart Dougal decided that he fancied some of the column inches for himself.

There was the inevitable scorn from Celtic supporters for a refereeing decision in their blue opponents favour, but, aside from ruminations on Dougal's penchant for funny handshakes and aprons, there was as much scorn for one of Strachan's senior pros, in giving the referee the opportunity to send him off, letting the new manager down just exactly when he needed him most.

The tempestuous denouement of Neil Lennon's afternoon may have been a peripheral issue as far as the run of the game was concerned, given that the midfielder was sent off after the final whistle had blown. However, not for the first time the captain's stroppiness was ill-fitting. Rather than demonstrate by example the resolve and doggedness that would have been needed to at least dig a point out of the mess, Lennon's main contributions (official-baiting and general snarling aside) were to back off from Marvin Andrews to the point where the big centre-half- not renowned for his Hoddle-like passing ability- had time to stroke a through ball into Dado Prso for the crucial opening goal, and a general inability thereafter to influence a fightback in his usual style.

It might be stretching the definition of luck a little to suggest that the malfunction of two his key players was simple poor fortune on the part of the manager, but Strachan desperately needed, and, frankly, deserved, big games from the men who had helped subjugate Rangers so effectively over the previous half-decade, at least to provide example to Saturday's hooped debutants. Thompson's loss cost so much because the team's subsequent unfamiliarity with each other precluded the kind of organisation and wagon-circling that achieving a result would have necessitated.

It was felt at the outset of this season that Strachan's immediate fortunes (and in the short fuse world of matters Celtic, immediacy is key) would be greatly dependent on how well Martin O'Neill's remaining lieutenants played their part in assisting the evolution and development of the new side. Well, we'll find out how true that assessment was now.

Sans Messrs Thompson and Lennon, and now Hartson and Sutton through injury, and indeed with Bobo Balde's future still in doubt, the term "new-look" will be more fitting than Strachan could ever have expected, and one fears that the seismic changes currently in place may take some time to settle. Whether Strachan (who, contrary to the popular media line, has been largely the recipient of tolerance and patience from the Celtic support) will still be there when that happens remains to be seen.


Blogger DrCelt said...

could it be like England in the 1986 World Cup when Bryan Robson and Ray Wilkins got themselves injured/suspended and Peter Reid and Trevor Steven came in, resulting in the team actually starting to perform? Of course that all ended in the hand of God goal, and the scottish referees wouldn't see anything wrong of one of those ending up behind boruc

3:05 p.m.  
Blogger Tom the Tim said...

Fairly accurate and concise summation of events,so far, Tommy and I can't disagree with a word you say. Once again DrCelt adds an intriguing sequiter to the situation and one can only hope that thus will be the case.
On the other hand, it is difficult to see where the bite will come from in midfield as I don't think Stan has the natural aggression to boss that area of the park and on the evidence of the recent reserve game, Virgo is well short of match fitness which would have facillitated Telfer to move forward.

I suspect that the Pars will attempt to set about us in the manner of the hyenas attacking the wounded wildebeast. Je d'espaire.

9:41 p.m.  

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