Inverness CT 0 – 2 Celtic: Lennon demonstrates flexibility and depth

Celtic overpowered a difficult Inverness CT side in the Highlands, to become the first name through to the quarter finals of the William Hill Scottish Cup. While the hosts were tough to break down throughout, they proved to be their own downfall with the defence culpable for both goals.

Celtic Lineup

Celtic lop-sided 4-4-2

There was no place for any of Celtic’s January signings in the squad that travelled to Inverness, with Lennon quoted as waiting until they are ready. With regards to injuries, Mo Bangura is out for the season, with Daniel Majstorovic returning from a fractured cheekbone. His normal deputy – Charlie Mulgrew – was shifted to left-back (in place of a not-quite-sharp-enough looking Emilio Izaguirre) allowing Joe Ledley to operate in midfield and Kelvin Wilson a long-awaited start at centre-back. Cha Du Ri was dropped in favour of Adam Matthews.

Elsewhere, James Forrest and Anthony Stokes were rotated/rested, allowing Georgios Samaras and Kris Commons a chance to stake a claim in the first eleven.

The formation therefore was a clear lop-sided 4-4-2, with Commons in his natural position high on the left, fleeting between forward and midfield.

Inverness CT

Inverness 4-2-3-1 / 4-4-1-1. Hayes initially started up front with Tade on the left, but for the majority of the match Tade was the lone striker, supported dynamically by either Hayes or Shinnie.

Terry Butcher’s side had been in fine form, having not lost a match since the unlucky 2-1 defeat to Rangers back on the 17th of December. The only change from last week’s goalless draw with St Mirren was Graeme Shinnie coming in for Shane Sutherland, and Ryan Esson dropped for Jonathan Tuffey.

Caley Thistle continue to struggle with a lengthy casualty list – Andrew Shinnie, Owain Tudur Jones, Steve Williams, Aaron Doran, Roman Golobart and Chris Hogg all unavailable.

Cagey opening

It was a scrappy opening, with neither Celtic’s direct approach or the Highland’s wind and rain, conducive to quality football. With the extra man in midfield Inverness looked slightly more comfortable in possession, while Celtic were looking to get the ball forward as eagerly as possible.

The sharp mind of Gary Hooper looked most likely to exploit the rushed attacking and panicked defending, with the Inverness defence failing to clear their lines and the striker ghosting in behind. He was, unfortunately, pushed too far wide, and his back-heeled cut-back slightly unlucky not to make it beyond the goalkeeper’s outstretched leg.

While Caley Thistle started with Jonny Hayes in the lone striker role, he was interchanging with Shinnie (in the centre) and Gregory Tade (wide left) frequently – with the gimmick an attempt to open gaps, or unsettle the defence.

Lennon’s use of Scott Brown and Joe Ledley

In something of a regular occurence for Lennon, very early-on in the match he opted to alter the midfield. It was strange because Celtic’s attacks seemed only to be lacking a little bit of luck to prove fruitful.

Nevertheless, Lennon demonstrated the flexibility of his midfield by flipping the lop-sided midfield horizontally. Joe Ledley became the tucked in midfielder, Brown moved central and Commons moved over to the right hand side.

 

The switch also highlights how James Forrest might integrate into the side in the future – with Brown central and Ledley on the left.

The change unsettled Celtic’s rythm, and what briefly followed was Caley Thistle’s best spell of the match. Nick Ross came close having found room between the lines, and then Celtic survived a flurry of corners, and a half-hearted penalty appeal.

Stepping up a gear

As per pre-formation switch, Celtic’s direct approach was consistently a hair-breadth away from breaking the deadlock. Hooper was central, coming close with a well-worked volley, and then his cut-back saw Commons tantalisingly close to controlling the ball and lashing in a shot.

In the end, Inverness were the source of their own undoing, in a comical period of awful defending. Ross Tokeley – the chief offender – feebly letting Samaras to stride through and blast in the opener from a narrow angle. It’s difficult to say if the goalkeeper was culpable; perhaps being allowed the benefit of the doubt due to the confounding curve and power on the shot.

At one point a clearance struck the face of a Caley Thistle defender, going out for a corner. Truly shambolic.

The course of the match varied little from that point, with Inverness trying but failing to utilise the pace of Tade on the counter against a relatively high defensive line.

Testing a 4-3-3

The introduction of Forrest for the imprecise Commons on the hour also saw a change of tack from Lennon. Samaras moved wide-left, with Forrest going high up on the right. Ledley and Brown flanked Wanyama to make a flat 4-3-3.

Normally seen as an attacking formation, it actually served well to contain Caley Thistle’s more forward thinking players. Instead of Inverness having a spare man in midfield, the spare man was at the back – which is precisely where you didn’t want to bumbling Tokeley on the ball.

Unfortunately for Tokeley, he did find himself with possession having cleared up a long Celtic ball. Hooper read the woeful back-pass and raced through only to be knocked down by David Proctor. Scott Brown tucked away the penalty to secure the win.

The other subtlety of the 4-3-3, is that in defending the wide forwards track back more into a 4-5-1 shape. At this stage, when possession is turned over this leaves Samaras (and more significantly) Forrest, quite deep but also fairly open (with the full-backs either out of position or unwilling to track their opposite number into deeper areas). Forrest was therefore able to take a few running starts on the left-back – coming close to scoring in the process.

Conclusion

Lennon will be delighted to progress having travelled to a historically difficult venue (which you won’t be allowed to forget!), particularly without picking up any injuries. While Lennon along with the apoplectic Butcher, have heaped praise on Celtic’s performance, it’s worth holding back on the superlatives.

While the performance was very good, particularly at the back, and while it might be ‘glory-hunting’ or melodramatic to complain about lack of goals in a 2-0 victory, the goals were borne from defensive error rather than quality creation.

The exception was Hooper, whose linkup and desire to get attempts on goal was astounding. But elsewhere it’s difficult to distinguish another strong attacking performance. Given the result, the gripe is minor.

It’s a testing time therefore for Commons, whose trademark position in the lop-sided 4-4-2 is under threat not only from James Forrest but now new signing Rabiu Ibrahim. Samaras’ goal (and short-term signing of Pawel Brozek) is also a reminder to Anthony Stokes that his partnership with Hooper is not set in stone. The suggestion of course, is of a quality squad depth, which Lennon was able to successfully demonstrate this afternoon.

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About tictacticuk

Football fan and commentator of all things Celtic FC.
This entry was posted in 2011/12, Inverness CT and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Inverness CT 0 – 2 Celtic: Lennon demonstrates flexibility and depth

  1. Connor says:

    Quality blogging my Mhan- keep up the good work. I’ll be spreading the word on your fine efforts.

  2. Mark Connelly says:

    Great post – really enjoy reading your work – way better than MSM!

  3. son of VanShugsidonk says:

    options galore at Celtic, whole unit where wonderfull today
    and Broonie played like a man possesed! happy days HH

  4. son of VanShugsidonk says:

    oh one more thing, are you Neil Lennon Tic?

  5. Jean-Pierre LeGuerre says:

    Good to see height at the back being utilised to nullify the usual ICT tactic (… dive for free kicks around halfway line, then throw long balls into the box looking for knockdowns, flicks etc). Mulgrew in the left back slot helped out at set pieces and prevented a diagonal ball over the head of the usual midget left back (eg izaguirre – class, ross wallace – not class).

    question: Cha has done well recently (despite criticism from the stands/sofas) – and is taller than Matthews…. any ideas re the latter’s selection yesterday?

    question 2: Kelvin Wilson – any thoughts? imposing enough? ‘no-nonsense’ enough? committed enough?

    • tictacticuk says:

      Hello Jean-Pierre,

      I think I’m 50/50 with you there for the selection of Mulgrew. As you’ve pointed out, his height is useful defending set-pieces from all over the park (useful attacking set-pieces too!)……… but personally I reckon it was more to do with Emilio just not being ready right now. So all reasons pointed to CM at LB.

      question1: I’ve been keeping tabs on the Cha/Matthews situation and since Mark Wilson last started (19 matches ago), Lennon has rotated the two almost straight down the middle. Cha 10 starts at RB to Matthews 8. The added twist is that in that time Matthews has played 3 times at left-back as well, taking his total team starts 11.

      I think Lennon sees them as equals in a broad sense, but has been quoted on the more specific aspects of their game. (Cha faster, more direct / Matthews better end product). Defensively its hard to split them, but generally the nod is given to the more experienced player, and therefore apart from the recent win over Rangers, Cha is normally trusted for the “big” encounters.

      In short, the answer to Q1 is rotation 🙂

      question2: imposing/no nonsense/commited enough? Yes to all! Injury has removed any sense of consistency so he’s still clawing his way back into the team – past an admittedly solid Rogne and Mulgrew. Majstorovic’s return (imo, Lennon’s first choice CB) complicates matters again. His main flaw is his on the ball ability – a bit too cumbersome for a side hellbent on possession. Aside from that, he has experience, great in the air, good covering speed, and strength. Good addition to the squad, will hopefully take the pressure off Rogne somewhat who along with Mulgrew, has been a constant lately (7 starts in last 8 since return from injury) (same stat for Charlie plus 1 at LB)

      Hope this is food for thought, thanks again for reading.

      tictactic

  6. Quite simply a pen. It’s being a printer, hooked directly to my brain.
    The toughest thing to know on the planet may be the income tax.

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