It was a familiar scene for Celtic fans as another precocious young striker dashed beyond his marker to face the opposition keeper one-on-one. Making his full debut against Inverness Caley Thistle, Tony Watt had only made fleeting substitute appearances for the first-team, displaying all the enthusiasm of an over-energised rookie trying to justify his inclusion – all naive athleticism and bluster.
Like a whole host of examples before him, he has age on his side, the technique on the ball is there, and his physique still growing. The question though, was of the intangible “composure” quality, and in slotting coolly past Ryan Esson, Watt stoked the escalating hype surrounding him.
His second demonstrated the other great “intangible” – the ability to be in the right place at the right time, but more impressive than that was his movement, making Gary Hooper loke immobile in comparison. Constantly pushing into the space being vacated by David Raven the right-back (urged forward by Terry Butcher), and wading into a target-man style fight with Simon King. At 6’0 and still young, Watt may not strictly be the answer to the lingering target-man problem, but his differentiation in style to Hooper, Anthony Stokes and Mo Bangura provides his manager with a good problem.
The youthful theme continued with other key performers. Victor Wanyama was conspicuous in his veteran like grip on the game, at the ripe old age of 21 while grabbing the opener in the process. Along with Filip Twardzik, who helped setup the second, the two bossed the centre of the pitch in a no-nonsense, safety first way. Richie Foran was an obvious miss for the hosts, his suspension demonstrating the point – a vicious hack last week earning him a red card. Inverness tried to physically impose in the absence of their captain, but the 2nd minute goal took the sharp edge out of the competition.
Though the initial lineup could’ve easily shaped up 3-5-2, Neil Lennon returned to the familiarity of 4-4-2 with an impressively young starting eleven. In truth it was probably the strongest XI available, with numerous injuries (and the sale of Ki Sung-Yeung) hindering the options. Most concerning was probably the unavailability of Kris Commons, a player so central to Lennon’s forward designs.
While the attacking vigour made for a 4-0 margin barely into an hour, the directness also serves as a worry for Wednesday’s match with Helsingborg. When firmly in control, it was still attack, attack, attack, with no thought for a possession-based defence. Aside from restricting the opposition’s chances, it also conserves energy relative to the opposition – it’s more tiring trying to win the ball-back higher up the park.
Inverness’ consolation goals were sloppy; Kelvin Wilson rushed out too far without adequately challenging the striker’s holdup work, and then Wanyama failed to track Ross Draper’s run. The second on paper, was down to Wanyama not even being on the field, nursing a knock, but equally down to communication. Twardzik was marooned in the middle of the park leaving Conor Pepper free to pick out Draper for his second.
The sloppyness however, was forgivable given the goal-lead and amount of young faces on the park. Joe Chalmers got a run out at left-back, while James Forrest was given a chance to improve his fitness before Wednesday, and Mo Bangura continues his underwhelming return from injury.
Lennon and Peter Lawwell may have been trimming the squad of late, but Watt and Twardzik are proving to be plausible alternatives in the long term.