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St. Mirren 0-1 Celtic: Hooper breaks St. Mirren resistance

November 18, 2010

Celtic bounced back from the defeat at Hearts with a valuable 1-0 win at St. Mirren thanks to a scrappy injury time winner from Gary Hooper. Lennon admitted it was a mistake to split up his strike partnership with Anthony Stokes in mid-week and so the pair were back up front together again. Another reunion was on the right flank, with Cha and Wilson selected at right-back and right-midfield respectively. As in the St. Johnstone game, this really helps to solidify Celtic’s right-hand side and reduces its defensive weakness that was more apparent earlier in the season. In the St. Johnstone game, Wilson didn’t venture forward that often, electing to stay out of Cha’s space but against St. Mirren the pair were far more interchangeable. At times, it appeared as though they were taking turns to be fullback and winger.

The other major change to lineup was in central midfield. Ledley’s suspension meant that Juarez was back in the side and this meant a slight change to how the midfield worked. When playing together, Ki and Ledley have fairly similar roles, with slightly more playmaking responsibility falling on the Korean’s shoulders. Juarez likes to play a more energetic role, frequently getting up and down the pitch and can often be seen shifting forwards in support of the forwards. In reponse, Ki played deeper and was much more clearly the player tasked with dictating the tempo and with playmaking duties. He interchanged with his midfield partner far less than when Ledley is selected, would often spray passes out wide and could even be seen dropping into the defensive line to make a back-three while the full-backs went forward. St. Mirren started with a 4-4-2 that sat deep and this gave Ki room to dictate things from the centre of the park.

St. Mirren must be given a lot of credit for managing to keep the scoreline level up until the closing stages. They started with a very rigid, disciplined 4-4-2 and deviated from this shape very little. Their players were sometimes dragged out of position by Celtic’s movement but they had the collective awareness to fill in for each other when this happened. Space between the lines was kept to a minimum and this made it very difficult for Celtic to break them down. The likes of Stokes and Maloney struggled to have an impact due to this. The St. Mirren forwards, in particular Michael Higdon, put in selfless, tireless displays and were initially tasked with closing down the Celtic defenders. Boss Danny Lennon must have noticed the growing influence of Ki on proceedings and so around the 20 minute mark, Higdon was told to stay tight on Ki and this made Celtic’s task even harder. This caused Juarez to stay closer to Ki but late on the half they could be seen marked by Higdon and strike partner, Wardlaw.

Ki and Juarez marked by the two St. Mirren forwards

Celtic had a large amount of possession and not much penetration but without the ball they continued their high pressing game. However, aside from a short period of slightly more attacking intent, St.Mirren seemed almost happy to give the ball away in non-dangerous areas. This was largely in the form of clearances up-field either out of play or to the Celtic centre-backs, rather than the greater risk of losing possession in their own half due to Celtic’s pressing. It was going to be a long day for the away side.

St. Mirren's defensive shape

The second half continued in the same vein, St. Mirren doggedly keeping the scoreline level and defending admirably. At some points their wingers would track Celtic’s attacking fullbacks so far up-field that they ended up in their own backline, making it look like a back-five. It was an almost impenetrable wall and something had to be done so Neil Lennon brought on Daryl Murphy for the struggling Anthony Stokes just before the hour-mark. The playing area had become so constricted by the home side – one could even describe their formation as 4-2-4-0 – that Celtic switched to a more direct and at times, long-ball game game. The usual passing style remained but there were far more high-balls forward once Celtic got up to the edge of the attacking third, mostly aimed at target-man Murphy. It’s not pretty, but sometimes you need this sort of ‘Plan B’ when things aren’t working. If it’s good enough for Spain – in the form of Fernando Llorente – it’s good enough for Celtic.

Further changes came, firstly with McGinn replacing Cha – which provided more attacking quality on the right – and then you knew Celtic were desperate as it was time for Paddy McCourt, who replaced Juarez. The ‘Derry Pele’ was fielded on the left and Maloney now moved into the centre as Celtic didn’t really have to worry about defending – it was now simply attack vs. defence. Celtic now had many players forward and lots of width and the more width to Celtic’s play and more variation in attack,  the better Ki looks. It gives him lots of options and he has the ability to find them, such as fantastic pass to McGinn who fluffed a golden chance to break the deadlock. Indeed, Celtic were now finally opening up a tiring St. Mirren side and it was only poor finishing that was keeping the scores level. Hooper has no such problem and after a bit of injury time magic from McCourt, the ball broke to him kindly and he tucked it away. The Englishman has saved Celtic a number of times this season and he is fast becoming a talismanic goal-poacher, his late goal bringing a sigh of relief to all those connected with the club.

Lineups

ST MIRREN:

Samson;

Van Zanten, Potter, McAusland, Travner;

McLean, Cregg, McGregor, Lynch (Thomson 70);

Wardlaw (Barron 79), Higdon

Subs not used: Mathers, McCluskey, Mooy, Lamont, McKernon

CELTIC: Forster;

Wilson, Rogne, Majstorovic, Izaguirre;

Cha McGinn 61), Juarez (McCourt 75), Ki, Maloney;

Stokes (Murphy 56), Hooper

Subs not used: Zaluska, Hooiveld, Towell, Crosas

P.S. The referee was dreadful…

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. JeanPierre LeGuerre permalink
    November 26, 2010 5:31 pm

    Good analysis (again).

    Any chance of a post-mortem on the Dundee Utd game please? A game that needs to be re-examined I think. . .

    • November 27, 2010 3:10 am

      apologies for the recent slow and/or lack of activity, other things have taken up my time! i will try to include an analysis of dundee utd and the forthcoming ICT game, perhaps in one post. been a bit slow/slack recently, will endeavour to get the site back to how it was originally!

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