The Hoops handed the initiative to title rivals Rangers on Wednesday night after losing their game in hand over the champions; a shock 3-2 defeat in the Highlands to Inverness Caley. The defeat leaves Celtic a point behind Rangers and relying on someone doing them a favour and taking points of their rivals over the coming weeks.
Coach Neil Lennon was particularly critical of his team. “It seemed to me, for the second half, that Inverness wanted it more than us, which I find incredible. We looked disorientated at the back and a bit ponderous going forward. We got the ball into decent areas wide, but our final ball was rubbish. Our set pieces were rubbish and, apart from Daniel Majstorovic, we never had anyone who really looked like they wanted to go and head the ball into the net. We made wrong decisions a lot of the time in the second half.”
Poor performance aside however perhaps equally debilitating to the Celtic cause was the injury influential midfield playmaker Beram Kayal picked up during that game. The Israeli international suffered a fractured wrist in the second-half after colliding with the man mountain that is Ross Tokely and is now out for the remainder of the season. As such he will also miss the Scottish Cup final against Motherwell. Fellow midfielder Joe Ledley is also out for the remainder of the season, giving manager Neil Lennon considerable selection problems in the centre of the park.
After being sidelined with injury earlier in the season Kayal has been in superb form over the last few months and has formed a good partnership with fellow midfielders Scott Brown and the aforementioned Ledley. The Israeli’s passing ability and ball control have made him a stand out player for the Hoops this season and he will be sorely missed over the next few weeks.
Defeat to Inverness and injuries to two star central midfielders are the last thing Neil Lennon needs as he continues to deal with off field threats while trying to keep up the championship challenge. Perhaps the pressure is beginning to show somewhat (and who can hold that against him really) as demonstrated by his increasingly irked demeanour to the press over the last week or so. At a press conference prior to the Inverness game with the hacks openly speculating about Player of The Year Emilio Izaguirre’s short to midterm future at Celtic, Lennon responded “As soon as we get a decent player into this club, you want him out the door. He wants to stay, we want him to stay. We have had no bids from anyone. All it is, is speculation coming from you lot, so just drop it.”
Lennon and his boys have a potentially trip to Kilmarnock this weekend to contend with and 3 points are absolutely essential. Kilmarnock, now minus the recently departed SPL Manager of the Year in Mixu Paatelainen, have been a mixed bag over the last few weeks under caretaker coach Kenny Shiels. They gained a credible 2-2 draw against Hearts last weekend but this was on the back of two thrashings by Dundee Utd and Celtic. In general though the men from Ayrshire have excelled this season thanks to big Mixu and star player Alexei Eremenko and should provide a decent challenge to the Hoops.
While a single point deficit in the league is not terminal to their chances of glory and the fact that Rangers could easily drop points against forthcoming opponents Hearts and Dundee United, after Wednesday night, Celtic also look like they could drop points especially without the influential Kayal in the team.
With all that is going on around him can Lennon pick up his troops after the midweek defeat and galvanise the squad for the final push to glory. We will get an idea this weekend.