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Celtic 3-1 Hamilton: Maloney spares Celtic’s blushes

October 3, 2010

Yet again, Celtic started a game poorly before recovering to take three points. A combination of an awful start and Hamilton’s tactics being spot on lead to Celtic going behind and it could have been a lot worse but for some goalkeeping heroics from Fraser Forster. The Celtic players looked off the pace for the first twenty minutes and simply weren’t as switched on as their dogged opponents, which was exemplified by the opening goal. Despite outnumbering Hamilton in the penalty area, Martin Canning was left completely free at the far post and had time to head across goal for McLaughlin to nod in from close range. This lack of concentration continued both in open play and at set pieces, with simple tasks not carried out properly, particularly in the defence. Celtic were troubled by simple high-balls hit into their defensive third, often not dealing them with cleanly nor tidying up the second balls.


Hasselbaink is left in too much space (yellow area) with nobody in the Celtic defence anticipating the flick-on. A lack of concentration?



Cha (orange) is caught out of position and there is little cover from the midfield. A 3 v 3 situation is created from which Hamilton almost score.


Billy Reid has done a good job at Hamilton and they must get credit for their game-plan, as it almost totally nullified Celtic’s attack. Perhaps taking inspiration from Rangers’ 0-0 draw with Man Utd, they fielded five man defence and like in that game, showed the benefit of three centre-backs against two strikers. Celtic, like Man Utd, lined up in a 4-4-2 formation and had not too dissimilar front-two to the English side’s Rooney-Hernandez partnership, with Maloney and Hooper selected. One would have expected Maloney to drop deep a lot and effectively make it a 4-4-1-1 but he uncharacteristically played more like a traditional striker. On the rare occasion that he did come deep he was dealt with by Hamilton’s midfield, much in the same way that Maurice Edu did with Wayne Rooney.


Hamilton's spare man in their centre-backs (yellow dots) against Celtic's front two (green)


As defensiveminded says, the formation Hamilton chose is tailor-made to neutralize the 4-4-2. Two of the three centre-backs picked up Hooper and Maloney and the spare man was able to tidy up anything that slipped through. It didn’t help that neither Maloney nor Hooper are dominant in the air and are both quite short, nor the fact that most of Celtic’s delivery into the box was poor. Celtic lacked width and were unable to get in behind Hamilton’s defence, which was compounded by both Samaras and Juarez’s (Celtic’s wide midfielders) tendency to drift infield and Ledley’s lack of running power to get up and down the flank from left-back. This left Cha as Celtic’s only player to ever provide width but his delivery is inconsistent and Hamilton’s organised defence meant he was often crossing from deep, which was easy to deal with for the Hamilton defence.


Hamilton defending in numbers. Also, Hasselbaink (red) comes back to help out. Good defensive setup.


It seemed that the only way an equalizer was going to come was through a Hamilton mistake, individual brilliance – Samaras and Maloney occasionally provided the only sparks – or a set-piece and that’s what happened to get Celtic back into the game. Like Hamilton, Celtic scored off a corner in similar fashion with Maloney heading in from a couple of yards out. After this though, the same pattern continued for the rest of the half and the opening period of the second-half.

Maloney was moved out to the right wing for the start of the half, with Juarez taking up a more central role in a trio with Brown and Ki. But, Maloney continually drifted in-field meaning Celtic’s system when in possession wasn’t much different from how it had been in the first half. He often looked for the ball in the area just behind Hooper but was hounded by Hamilton’s midfield, just as he had been earlier on. Juarez was also taking up similar positions and so again Cha was the only player to provide any sort of width.


Hamilton defending in numbers in the second half. Maloney (green) has drifted into the centre from the right but is halted by Hamilton's dogged midfield.


As before, it was going to be a piece of individual brilliance, a Hamilton mistake or set-piece that would get Celtic another goal and like before, that’s what happened, this time with a combination of all three. Just after the hour mark, Maloney expertly whipped in a free-kick to beat an out of position Cerny and give Celtic the lead.Just before the goal went in, Stokes was brought on to replace Juarez and so unlike Man Utd against Rangers, Celtic had a tactical re-jig in attempt to break the deadlock. Maloney’s free-kick meant that this wasn’t necessary but it is good to see the manager change things when it’s clear things aren’t working. Stokes formed a front-three with Samaras and Hooper, with Maloney behind them meaning the formation was a 4-2-1-3. When attacking, Cha shifted up to often make it a 3-3-1-3 or push right up alongside Maloney so it became 3-2-2-3 (the W-M?). At times, Cha even popped up alongside the forwards, in which case Samaras dropped back, often into central areas. The change brought greater fluidity with a lot more position switching and unpredictability to Celtic’s attacks and for the first time in the game looked dangerous from open play. Therefore, it was no surprise when this was how the third goal was scored. As well as the attacking change in formation, Celtic’s closing down was much more aggressive and the new shape gave a better platform for offensive pressing. Scott Brown, doing what he does best, closed down his man as he received a sloppy pass and the ball broke to Hooper to carry it just inside the box and score with an excellent finish.

After the goal, Crosas and Murphy replaced Hooper and Samaras respectively, meaning another change in shape to 4-1-4-1, in an attempt to see out the game. Maloney was now on the left, Stokes on the right and Crosas sat just behind the central midfield partnership of Brown and Ki. Murphy was brought on presumably to hold the ball up, a good way of using up time.

Overall, it was another poor performance from Celtic but again they still managed to get the three points. They say a sign of a good team is one that wins when playing badly but this form, particularly at the start of games, must be cause for concern for Neil Lennon. Glenn Loovens continues to show a lack of concentration, as does the defensively suspect Cha. There are also still question marks over the four-man midfields that Lennon seems to have a preference for even though the 4-2-1-3/4-2-3-1 has so far looked more impressive. There have been a number of games now where 4-4-2 has been ditched in favour of one of the other formations, and this has gone on to improve the side’s play. It makes one wonder why we don’t just go back to using one of them from the start.




Cha, Loovens, Majstorovic, Ledley;

Juarez (Stokes 63), Brown, Ki, Samaras (Murphy 78);Maloney, Hooper (Crosas 78)Subs Not used: Zaluska, Wilson, Towell, Twardzik


Cerny;Gillespie (M. Paixo 72), Goodwin (Wilkie 72), Canning, McLaughlin, Buchanan;Mensing, Routledge, Imrie;F. Paixo, Hasselbaink (Casalinuovo 72).Subs Not used: Murdoch, Skelton, Graham, McAlister

7 Comments leave one →
  1. NickMcD permalink
    October 3, 2010 10:24 pm

    Excellent as ever – thanks.

    What possible reason is there for this persistance with 442 from the start? Surely its proven ineffectiveness for us is contributing to our habitual lack of confidence when beginning games?

    • October 5, 2010 12:10 pm

      It’s difficult to say, only the manager and his coaching staff would really know. Perhaps they see more (as yet unfulfilled) potential in the 4-4-2? Maybe the players like it? Maybe we use it early on in games so that we can switch to the other, more open formations when the opposition is tired? It’s not an unheard of strategy.

  2. October 4, 2010 8:13 am

    I am surprised at this kind of tactical sophistication from Scottish teams. I always have a soft spot for any team playing with 3 centerbacks. I dont get any SPL games in my part of the world so I have to ask, have Scottish teams always had this kind of tactical variety or is it a new thing ?

    • October 5, 2010 11:50 am

      There is actually a decent amount of variety in the league, and a number of teams deploy 3 centre-backs. I think the SPL is actually quite a good ‘training ground’ for managers. They have little to no budget to speak of and are all, aside from Celtic & Rangers, not much different in ability. Some managers improve their ability to work on no money and in their ability to halt their opposition. Unfortunately, there isn’t quite the same amount of ingenuity when it comes to breaking teams down, even with Celtic & Rangers, though players’ technique may play a part in that.

      As for whether it’s a new thing, I don’t think so. A number of good coaches have come out of Scotland, having completed their qualifications there. Not just Scots either, even Jose Mourinho did some of his badges here.

  3. Paks permalink
    October 4, 2010 4:05 pm

    Good assessment of the game. The first half was desperate especially the first 25 mins. Players were slow, static and predictable during this early period. Looked as if they were all playing with a hangover?

    We have been talking about this 3 centre back defence and how ineffective 4-4-2 has been against it for a week or two now. I thought we took far too long to adjust to their tactics and like everyone else I am dumbfounded that we are still playing 4-4-2 when it is so easily countered.

    Give us fast flowing football Neil, from the kick-off, if you please. We want that thunder we were promised!


    My good lady works with 2 Middlesbrough supporters and they are completely bored to tears with the static, predictable and rigid 4-4-2 football that they are now playing. I feel for them.

    • October 5, 2010 12:07 pm

      Completely agree again, and it’s not a surprise to see Middlesbrough fans growing tired of Strachan’s tactics. You would think that the World Cup showed everyone how 4-4-2 is no longer that suitable when trying to play attacking, passing football. I suppose a part of being a manager is single-mindedness though.


  1. Dundee Utd 1-2 Celtic: Best team performance of the season? Celtic’s 4-4-2 is coming together « Tictical Analysis

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