Hearts 2 – 0 Celtic: Poor changes fail to remedy poor performance

Celtic couldn’t reduce the 10 point advantage enjoyed by Rangers after a disappointing performance in Edinburgh against Hearts. Though a single game in hand waits, the gap only days into October is too big for comfort.

Celtic lineup

Going into the game, Neil Lennon had a substantial injury situation to contend with, with first-choice Beram Kayal and Joe Ledley joining Emilio Izaguirre, club Captain Scott Brown and new centre-back Kelvin Wilson on the casualty list. Throw in Gary Hooper recently shaking off a knock and Kris Commons only just making his return, this made for a side consisting mostly of second-choice players.

Celtic attacking 4-4-2

This forced Lennon’s hand towards the conspicuous non-standard attacking 4-4-2 that has been blamed for many a bad performance over the past 2-3 seasons. Reluctant to not play 2 strikers in the SPL, with only two central midfielders available, this brand of 4-4-2 was the only solution.

In terms of personnel, the main inclusion of note was Mohammed Bangura over Anthony Stokes – but almost everywhere else the selection was to be expected. That is excluding Lukasz Zaluska, who after a decent game midweek against Udinese returned to the bench to allow for Frazer Forster’s return.

Hearts Lineup

Hearts 4-3-3

Paulo Sergio was still without Andrew Driver, and made three changes to the side that lost 2-0 to St Johnstone last week. Stephen Elliott was injured that match, missing out on this afternoons action along with David Obua and Mehdi Taouil. Into the side came David Templeton, Rudi Skacel and Eggert Jonsson.

Sergio lined his side up in a 4-3-3 cum 4-1-4-1, looking to use the height and strength of Ryan Stevenson up front via quality service from the flanks. This flank-based approach was also setup to stifle Celtic’s own threat in wide areas.

Even opening

Considering the rain which threatened to postpone the game prior to kick-off, the first period of the game was beset with predictably awkward challenges, poor possession retention and a lack of creativity from both sides. It took referee Craig Thomson 25 minutes to first produce a card, but in truth the book could’ve been out much earlier. Skacel for a late swipe at Charlie Mulgrew, Ki for catching Skacel on the ankle, and then the obligatory Ian Black bad tackle yellow.

Hearts initially looked to capitalise on Celtic’s now notoriously fractured defence, with Stevenson taking advantage of Mulgrew and El Kaddouri’s indecision, forcing a save from Forster, Zaliukas hit the post and Hamill also tested the Celtic ‘keeper with a good free-kick.

Celtic on the other hand, were most potent making use of space on the break, but the final couple of passes were too often lacking – with all four “front-men” equally guilty. Kris Commons continued his infuriating recent form of mixing the odd flash of brilliance with sloppy first-touches, badly timed passes and all-round lazyness.

The most gilt-edged chance fell to Bangura, the player Lennon put faith in ahead of last seasons 2nd top (Celtic) scorer, Anthony Stokes. James Forrest burst down the right and provided one of the only decent deliveries of the afternoon – Bangura’s free header was a decent, if slightly unassured attempt, that Jamie MacDonald matched.

As the first half drew to a close, Celtic not only had the feeling of being on top without being able to break the deadlock, but also the feeling that Hearts were far from submission.

Eventful second half defines game

Celtic initially appeared to be building on the perceived first-half advantage, but slack defending once again cost dear. Predictably the source was a looping high cross. The ball hung in the air, allowing for Rudi Skacel to ghost untracked from his starting right-side. It was probably Ki who should’ve tracked his run (or even James Forrest who could’ve been defending that side) but neither Majstorovic or Matthews come away with much credit. Templeton was able to control the cross uncontested, knocking it down for the suddenly free Skacel, who netted the opener.

Bangura was withdrawn for Stokes at this point, but things would get worse. Within minutes of conceding, Kris Commons was rightly sent off for a dreadful lunge on Mrowiec.

Celtic post-red-card 4-2-1-2

Unfortunately nothing was learned from the similar situation against Rangers earlier this season: it was previously stated on this blog, that when you’re a goal down and a man down, the priority over all priorities is to stay in the game. With 30 minutes remaining a chance to salvage a draw, or if you’re lucky, a chance to win it would come. Even in a more reserved formation – such as a solid 4-4-1.

Lennon instead drew James Forrest inside – very similar in fact to the formation against Udinese – only minus a holding midfielder. Against Udinese, the formation was apt, as each wing only carried the threat of one player. But here it leaves both full-backs in a 2 vs 1 situation.

Arguably, it was almost a given that Hearts would score again, which defeats the purpose of the predominantly attacking reaction to the sending off.

Capitulation

It was no surprise therefore, that without a solid foundation to depend on (bearing in mind the already fragile defensive situation) that it was now harder to keep possession in safe areas of the pitch, and easier for Hearts to mount attacks down the flanks.

Regardless, Lennon’s next change was again an attacking one, with El Kaddouri coming off for Paddy McCourt – a desperate penultimate roll of the dice. This now made a 3-4-2 formation, with Mark Wilson becoming a centre-back, and Forrest and McCourt the only wing presence. Hearts took advantage of the space in the channels as Templeton chased down what appeared to be a lost cause. His clever back-heel was into the path of Stevenson, whose finish was clinical.

The very last despairing tactical response was throwing Majstorovic up-front as a form of physical outlet in a 2-4-3 formation, and while even though it was too late, it’s the kind of gung ho Mowbray-esque logical response to a sending off that results in more goals coming in at the wrong end. Where red cards are concerned, more strikers does not necessarily mean more goals scored – if anything, the opposite is true.

Conclusion

It’s still very early in the season and Rangers’ lead is by no means insurmountable. But the early season form is ominous. The togetherness and tactical security of last season is lacking, although the unavailability of 5-6 key players is obviously a compounding factor.

On the plus side, the defence played quite well for a second game (opening goal aside, although arguably the midfield was as much to blame) with the second goal due to over-eager tactical stretching. The 10 (potentially 7) point gap however is not the primary concern. The concern is the ability of certain individuals – not just second-choice players coming into the side – but the attitude and form of the previously dependable, like Gary Hooper and Kris Commons.

The latter is such a painful disappointment. Once the jewel in the crown of a formidable side, the focal point of the entire attacking strategy – now an indecisive and undetermined shadow. The red card will infuriate Neil Lennon, already hugely frustrated with Commons lackadaisical fall from grace.

It’s now not just a case of finding a ‘Plan B’, but being able to be confident in a plan at all.

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About tictacticuk

Football fan and commentator of all things Celtic FC.
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12 Responses to Hearts 2 – 0 Celtic: Poor changes fail to remedy poor performance

  1. Lennon’s tactics when we went down to 10 men were, as you say, mad. Why did we decide to go gung-ho when it was inevitable our horrendous defence would give Hearts more opportunities? As for throwing Dan up-front towards the end of the game – words fail me, such a desperate thing to do. The club has been on a downward spiral for a long time now – performances like today just reinforce that opinion.

  2. marty says:

    Lennon is tactically hopeless. His team selections are baffling. GO NOW!!

  3. tim says:

    lennon has never had a clue. dont know how many times i have said that in 2 years, only to be told to change the record,dont give us that ,,WE ARE NEIL LENNON rubbish, or what was it he said in may,,this is not the end,,,its just the beginning, well neil, if this is the beginning i dread to think what the end is,,all this talk, and blaming someone else for results, covering himself, NEIL, YOU PICK THE TEAM, YOU PICK THE TACTICS, AGAINST RANGERS, ST JOHNSTONE, UDINESSE,( A TEAM OF RESERVE PLAYERS) YOUR PICK AND TACTICS WERE WRONG AND YOU KNEW IT, DO US A FAVOUR AND GO NOW

  4. adam rush says:

    The Celtic Board = Rangers best friends who have reduced Celtic to pathetic and ineffectual
    mediocrity.Lennon got the job because no one else wanted it.

    CRISIS !

    VOTE WITH YOUR FEET

    THERE’S MORE MISERY COMING

    4-IN-A-ROW !

    i HOPE YOU’RE PROUD OF YOURSELF MR BILLIONAIRE DESMOND !

  5. Jungle says:

    Lennon Is useless, people keep saying ‘but look what he did last year’. Yeah I saw what he did last year and it was lose the league to a broke Rangers when we had a far superior team. The problem we have is too many PC Brigade fans have crept into the ground and have tried drilling into other supporters heads that you should get behind the team instead of criticizing them. Well, if these PC fans had it there way we would never had sacked the board and started a new era in the clubs history! Unfortunately we are now going back to the dark days and players are finding it less appealing to come and play for us regardless of our size. We need to spend, we have money to spend so lets get to it! A good manager who can attract players is whats needed so pay what ever it costs as lennon has nothing appealing about him apart from he’s a celtic man!

    Celtic deserve better than this!!

    Rant over

  6. bogbhoy says:

    No point repeating what I think of Lennon, i think many of us are in the same boat now. LENNON MUST GO NOW – SACK THE BOARD

  7. onepeploe says:

    The problems ALWAYS stem from our defence…the lack of fight and urgency is despicable and the players do not seem to be trying to help their manager out.

    Always a bad sign!

  8. Liam says:

    It’s horrific.

    The league is effectively over by early October.

    That’s not a knee jerk statement, it’s the truth.
    We have now lost 3 SPL games and have been humiliated in Europe.
    We are in a situation already in which we can’t drop anymore points. With this current squad and a manager who comes up with the most baffling team line-ups imaginable we have no chance of this happening.

    We have 2 weeks now to let Lennon go and beg an experienced manager to come to Parkhead.

    This is bad, really bad and it needs to change.

    How many more titles do we need to lose before something is done?

  9. tom says:

    The problem is that none of our coaches have a clue how to implement a proper playing system.
    We have a decent squad but it’s performing at a far lower level than it’s collective parts.
    We have a system designed to encourage opponents and can only score because we have superior players to most spl teams.
    We are a fragmented unit who never look like a team.
    When we beat Motherwell i posted on another website that we gave to much possession and chances to them and a better team would make us pay.
    To have the hopeful cross to our outmanned forwards as our only attacking option is pathetic
    We have no goals from open play in Europe because of this.
    Individual players have taken the blame for a system that clearly does not work and leaves them exposed..
    As for the coach constantly blaming the personel?He should buy a mirror.

  10. John Christopher Donaldson says:

    manager, tactics, team selection blah blah blah… it’s the board that set the conditions, the board that give the club the platform the board that set the horizons.

    we have a board that is criminally negligent on all football matters.

    with this board we will continue to have success only on a spread sheet, never on the park where it matters.

  11. Johnd says:

    I disagree with your comments about the defence. This defence is always 30 seconds away from a disaster. They have no confidence in each other and as soon as they are put under any pressure at all they will collapse. Look at the tactics employed by ICT at Celtic Park. Get at Celtic from the start, create panic and try and take the lead. If Celtic go a goal down, the heads go down. No one believes they will come back. Teams know this and will go for it at Celtic Park and the crowd will make the players panic even more. A whole new strategy is required. From the boardroom down. I fear that Lenny has lost belief in his team and himself and this will be the biggest boost of all to Fat Sally and rangers.

  12. david deans says:

    All these people who keep blaming the board are very short sited. There only mistake as far as i can see is putting Neil Lennon and his rookie back room team in charge. They have given him money to spend and he has got a good eye for a player. But knowing how to use those players tactically and get the best out of them is the big problem. He continues to change the lineup every game and uses different formations every game. I do believe we have some great players but the wrong coach in charge. He cannot seem to motivate the players to step up to the plate and the disipline is non existant.
    Dont keep blaming the board they run the club on a very sound footing, and they have given the manager money to spend, we dont want to end uo like the Rangers on the brink of financial catastrophie.
    A NEW COACH WITH EXPERIENCE AND A PROVEN TRACK RECORD IS ALL WE NEED .

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