Neil Lennon’s Bhoys are left frustrated after throwing away 2 points to a stubborn Dundee Utd side. Gary Hooper opened the scoring after 22 minutes with a fine shot on the turn, before Celtic spurned numerous chances and let the opposition back into the game. The Arabs’ persistence paid off as they grabbed a late equaliser – and they fully deserved a point.
Joe Ledley returned for Celtic following his one match suspension at the expense of Efrain Juarez helping the Celtic midfield back to it’s normal shape, and up front instead of a deep lying forward in Stokes who missed out through illness, targetman Daryl Murphy leads the line alongside Gary Hooper in a classic big-man little-man British combination.
While earlier in the season Peter Houston gambled at Tannadice with some success in playing 2 up front, fairly predictably he opted for one of the defensive formations of choice when an SPL side comes to Parkhead – a counter-attacking 4-1-4-1. The idea is to press heavily on Celtic’s central midfielders and not let them pick a pass, as bothLedley and Ki are particularly expert at creating. Also with Robertson sitting, this provides another layer between the lines should a Celtic winger or forward drop into ‘the hole’. It’s also a good setup in stifling wing-play, as the extra midfielder can go wide and create 3 against 2 on the flanks.
Although Celtic survived an early scare where Goodwillie latched on to a counter-attack (the centre-backs were on attacking a set-play duty) which he really should have scored, Celtic went on to dominate the first half and actually became rather comfortable. As per normal the biggest source of attacking joy was down the left flank, with Izaguirre over-lapping captain Shaun Maloney, and both linked up tremendously well. Even with Robertson drifting wide to help out on that flank, Celtic’s left sided players both possess fantastic close control and sharp acceleration. Although Izaguirre kept doing well to get into good crossing positions, his final ball was usually lacking. Another factor in this success was Johnny Russell. Nominally a right-winger, he was charged with supporting lone striker Goodwillie and had the most license to get forward and hopefully cause Izaguirre enough problems to keep the Honduran pinned back. This ploy didn’t work, and that is why Izaguirre and Maloney enjoyed so much success in the first period. Despite being outnumbered, both Ki and Ledley had efforts from range that perhaps they should have made more of, as did McGinn (somewhat greedily). Hooper was the man to break the dead-lock after a mistake from Gary Kenneth and was unfortunate not to add to his tally. Not a problem at that stage given the dominance, still, going in at half-time Celtic should’ve had more goals.
From United’s perspective they would’ve been disapointed that Gomis and Bauben had been thus far anonymous, and that the big chance they had (early Goodwillie one on one) was not taken. Also they were being ripped apart down their right by Maloney and Izaguirre, so action would have to be taken. Lennon on the other hand would be looking for more of the same.
Houston’s second half tinker
There were no changes to personnel in the second period for either manager, but it was Houston who took the initiative and very subtly altered his tactics. Russel was no longer instructed to press high and urgently support Goodwillie, and this helped the young midfielder cope with Izaguirre more easily. His starting position was deeper, so no energy sapping chasing to be done and it also closed to space for Celtic’s left side to exploit. The other noticeable difference was the midfield now played as a whole slightly deeper and more compact with less pressing. Similar to United’s right, this meant there was less space to defend, but also with the extra central midfielder there were more players to pass to and keep possession, and less hopeful long-balls to Goodwillie. It’s not that Celtic’s central pair were overrun – it’s more the options were cut-off, and now Celtic were guilty of long hopeful passes to the increasingly isolated Murphy, more often from Rogne, although the other outlet was now the right-hand side and McGinn. Unfortunately McGinn’s shooting was sheer wasteful, and Cha’s crossing did not find it’s target regularly enough.
Celtic just could not find that second goal to kill the game. As the clock ticked by, there was no decision to shut up shop and hold on to the goal, and equally there wasn’t a tactical shift from Lennon to re-ignite some of the creativity and dominance from the first half.
Instead Celtic rather aimlessly ambled on, and without direction the comfort seemed to turn to complacency, and suddenly Dundee Utd had the initiative. Houston’s first tinkering saw Utd play deeper but more assertively. Although there was a discernible advantage, the flip-side disadvantage was the link between midfield and attack (Goodwillie) was now more pronounced. Houston was clever, and reacted by bringing on target-man Daly who could hold-up high balls, while Goodwillie (who prefers receiving the ball on the deck) went wide-right – almost like Russel’s intial high/wide role and Russel was withdrawn, exhausted after cancelling out Izaguirre who was also tiring badly.
Dundee Utd’s deep supremacy was developing momentum and they took possession further and further up the pitch. Now the congested midfield was no longer in Utd’s half, it was mainly in the middle third and ever-closer to Forster’s net. Celtic’s final (and best) chance feel to Joe Ledley, who should have done better on the counter. The Welshman’s first pass to Ki was slack, and while Ki’s return was excellent putting Ledley through, he could not finish, and Gomis cleared off the line.
Samaras, then McCourt and finally Juarez were introduced but they were strange substitutions. Samaras initially played left-wing but was almost immediately put up front alone (change of plan from Lennon?) and McCourt is not exactly a player you want when under siege. He’s just the man when chasing a goal, but at this point Celtic had relinquished all hope, and were plainly holding out for the final whistle.
Juarez was a more natural fit and replaced Hooper, but came on too late to make a difference and could not help win or maintain possession. Houston’s side were now pushing relentlessly, and looked to have much greater desire. It was a failed tackle from Shaun Maloney that won the crucial corner for Dundee Utd, and practically the last kick of the game, as Dillon beat Majstorovic to score the equaliser.
Perhaps a tad harsh but it seemed Lennon was tactically out-witted, given the actions of Houston. Lennon’s response came too late to make a real difference, and wasn’t helped by the fact that individually, the Celtic players did not do enough to score the second, or defend the first. Is it going to be a recurring theme, where more savvy managers can take advantage of Lennon’s supposed tactical naivety? Like Jim Jefferies last week or Walter Smith last month? There is a long way to go, but Lennon needs to be more pro-active if he is to have any hope in outsmarting the old heads of the SPL.