Celtic's Season in Review

A second place finish for Celtic in Neil Lennon’s first season in charge ends with the manager secure in his position but plenty of work to do over the summer for next season’s title challenge.

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Second place is usually deemed unacceptable in Glasgow football and recent Celtic managers Gordon Strachan and Tony Mowbray may look enviously at the support Neil Lennon has enjoyed despite the runners-up position. Martin O'Neill is the last manager who could rely on almost universal backing without delivering a league title, but he had begun with back-to-back championships. Lennon clearly benefits from an affinity with the fans, a respect that has extended from his playing days, but he has earned most credit from his time in charge since taking over from Mowbray. He was broadly considered an unspectacular appointment but a positive style of football and some inspired signings have elevated the Lurgan man to a manager revered by Celtic supporters.

Celtic finished the season with 92 points, a total that has been bettered by Rangers only three times in the 13 seasons since the SPL was formed in 1998. It’s a fact that will be of little comfort to Celtic, given one of those occurrences was this season, but in a world where instant gratification is often demanded, it’s worth noting the marked improvement in Celtic’s performances this season. Gordon Strachan, despite being much-maligned as Celtic boss is generally regarded to have been a success at Celtic Park but he never once matched the points total Lennon has accumulated this season, despite three league titles. This is not to overstate the achievement in coming second, merely to suggest that despite emotions that suggest otherwise, there is a difference between mounting a serious challenge and coming second by a distance.

Without league titles none of this will mean anything to Neil Lennon or the club’s supporters but it is unfair to evaluate his performance without taking stock of where the club are coming from. Just as Gordon Strachan inherited a mess when he took over from O’Neill, Lennon was left with the shell of a squad after Mowbray and his scattergun transfer policy were relieved of their duties. Celtic began the domestic season with a 1-0 victory away at Inverness. The team that day (in a brand new 4-2-3-1 World Cup 2010 formation) was: Zaluska- Cha, Loovens, Hooiveld, Mulgrew- Brown, Ledley- Maloney, Fortuné, McCourt- Samaras. Despite winning all domestic games up until the first derby against Rangers in October it was evident from early on that last year’s squad required an overhaul and this year’s version would require time to settle. The positive start glossed over much of the work that needed to be done and arguably the period before Christmas, when Celtic drew three home games in a row, illustrated the gap between a settled Rangers team and a work-in-progress Celtic side.

And yet in spite of the excuses the SPL was far from out of Celtic’s reach. At various stages of 2011 Rangers were the team struggling for points and hoping for mistakes from their cross-city rivals. Celtic obliged at two games in particular - away at Inverness and at Motherwell when poor defensive resulted in defeats. While there was a costly penalty miss at Ibrox, and that run of poor results in Kayal’s absence pre-Christmas, the telling difference between the two teams was probably that old frustrating cliché about winning when not playing well.

<a rel=“attachment wp-att-2185” href="http://www.thefreekick.com/blog/?attachment_id=2185] It was interesting to hear Neil Lennon praise his team’s consistency before the final match against Motherwell because that was a hallmark of the improvement post-Mowbray. The difficulty was that they were miserable in three games in particular (Inverness, Motherwell and Hearts away) and were comprehensively beaten each time. That’s not a huge number of sub-par performances to endure over a 38 game season but the failure to even pick up a point in any of those fixtures was vital. Defensive uncertainty was at the root of those three defeats and the team came apart at the seams under pressure. It’s not an unusual reaction for a newly assembled side to crumble when first tested, but it’s important to break that trend early. To address another stock footballing phrase, it’s not so much about a winning habit as winning in adversity. It’s easy to clock up successive victories when playing well, taking points from other games is equally important.

Some of the criticism of Lennon’s management so far is that he has failed in the big games he has taken charge of. It’s probably an unfair criticism, given his record in matches against Rangers and it really does boil down to a couple of individual losses. The Inverness game is cited as an example of a crucial game lost but in reality it was no important than any of a dozen others played over the last couple of months. The result lends it a greater significance in recounting where it went wrong for Celtic but it wasn’t an epic tactical battle with Terry Butcher, nor a hostile high-pressure atmosphere that caught Celtic out. They were simply shambolic that evening and deserved nothing.

The performances against Utrecht and Braga in European competition were disappointing but again they came very early on in Lennon’s reign. The narrow victories over SPL opposition in the late summer and autumn illustrated the superior resources and personnel of Celtic over opponents, but once the playing field was level the lack of cohesion in the new team was soon exposed.

Lennon can’t be judged on the early exit from Europe last season but he may consider its importance in the next campaign. The modern trend in the EPL seems to be that European football can be a distraction from the efforts of qualifying for European football and it’s an attitude that has crept into the Scottish media, if not the teams themselves. Yet the more this season progressed the more Rangers looked like a settled outfit, used to grinding out results at home and across Europe and capable of adapting their style (if not their personnel) accordingly. Celtic lacked the same experience, certainly in terms of playing together, and found it more difficult to settle defensively when under the kosh or to control the pace of games that were slipping away from them. One period in November illustrated these problems better than any other - a 9-0 trouncing of Aberdeen was followed up with a two goal defeat at Hearts and four more points dropped by the end of the month. European football should be seen as a chance to improve the team, not a hindrance to their domestic hopes.

Looking forward to the summer and it’s clear that although there was a serious overhaul last summer, significant replenishment of the squad is required again this year. A goalkeeper, another centre back, and a striker will be top of the shopping list but much depends on the identity of those who leave. The transfer market has been kind to Lennon thus far: Izaguirre, Kayal, Commons,Hooper and Ledley being the obvious stand-outs. The vastly improved contributions of Wilson and Brown and the presence of reliable alternatives in a few key positions ensures that Lennon can identify the specific roles in the team that require addressing. The integration of new signings should therefore be less painful than last summer.

Reviewing Celtic’s 2010/11 season today, tomorrow or in years to come is not going to change any overall conclusions. There is no escaping the fact that the league could have been won, probably should have been won, and was ultimately gifted to Rangers. A Scottish Cup victory would be welcome but will hardly persuade anyone that this was a positive outcome. The perspective of future years may just tell us however that this was the year the groundwork was laid for a better team to win trophies. As Lennon himself said, “This is not the end, just the beginning.”

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Do you think Lennon needs to be more settled on front pairing for next season? He didn’t seem to make up his mind who should partner Hooper Samaras or Stokes. I think Stokes has the potential to be a very good player but he needs real run of games next season. Samaras while capable of moments of individual quality disrupts flow of the side and is wasteful way too often. Wilson is another player who should be discarded if looking to progress further in Europe. He is a technically poor player imo. Centre half is the priority though. Vital that a quality centre half arrives.

Are Celtic, or indeed Scottish teams, producing much home grown talent these days?

Rangers rely primarily on Scottish players and home grown talent. Celtic primarily buy in foreigners.

“This isn’t the end, this is just the beginning.”



Celtic support do a mass huddle as word filters through that Kilmarnock have conceded a 5th. :lol:



Good article, Rocko. I think Neil has crafted a really entertaining side and I’m very much looking forward to this team growing with him. I think a little lack of experience on and off the pitch has caused us to ultimately fall short. I don’t think the Scottish Cup is that much of a consolation but I reckon it’ll do a power of good for Neil and the squad to win their first trophy together. He took over a squad in turmoil and has got the team playing quality, fast, attacking football. We need to improve obviously and I think we will based on what I’ve seen this season and Neil’s signings to date.

Not enough I’d say CM. We can’t compete with teams in other leagues in transfer fees so I think we should be doing more to bring talent through.

Aiden McGeady was an example of the positive side of Celtic’s youth development but for all the focus on the youths at Celtic these days only Forrest has made the breakthrough since. There are a few guys who you’d have hopes for (Keatings, F Twardzik) but I don’t think as many players are coming through as you’d like or expect.

From recent comments from Lennon I expect him to be looking for another striker. I don’t think he’s overly happy with the partners for Hooper. I think Stokes has been harshly dropped a couple of times but obviously doesn’t have Lennon’s full trust. Samaras had a good game today but is never far from a nightmare performance and you just can’t rely on him for goals. Can’t afford that in the SPL.

As for Wilson, well wages comes into it. I much prefer Hinkel as a player but I’d say he’s on over twice the money at least.

Good article mate, hopefully we can rid ourselves of the deadwood in the summer and add 4/5 quality players to the mix.

I have a feeling we will be signing Westwood in the summer too.

The senior teams will never play south of the border… But would there be any merit in the underage teams doing so… In an u16/u18 type British comp??

(Not that the English underage system is a model of perfection)

Shouldnt they be facing in for the huddle? :blink:

There’s no reserve league in Scotland anymore so there’s a type of “development” squad who play against English opposition a fair bit. Would be no harm to be playing English opposition more regularly. Celtic generally have a very good youth team - they just struggle bringing them through. There’s usually loads of quick, young guys who are tidy on the ball and they play well together but they struggle phyiscally to be brought through.

UEFA were pioneering a Champions League / Europa League style tournament this season. Celtic played a few games in it - they beat Liverpool actually. There’s no reserve league in Scotland so the ‘Development Squad’ (mixture of reserves and U19s) play lots of friendlies against English sides. The U17s and 19s also play loads of tournaments around Europe and beyond. A mixed side were actually beaten this morning in the final of a tournament in Hong Kong after defeating Aston Villa and Ajax on the way to the final. Liverpool were beaten in the semi-final by the Japanese team that won it out.

As Rocko said, Celtic aren’t bringing too many first team quality players through. There was a phase of dwarf wingers and shit strikers* coming through. Maloney was probably the last good one before McGeady unless I’ve completely forgotten someone obvious. James Forrest looks to have something about him and has played regularly this season. There’s big hopes too for Dylan McGeough who is rejoining Celtic in the summer from Rangers.

  • An example of this is Simon Lynch, who’s now launched a music career:


I think that our squad is too big. Take the 18 involved today:

Wilson, Majstorovic, Loovens, Izaguirre;
Forrest, Brown, Ki, Mulgrew;
Hooper & Samaras.

Subs: Zaluska, Juarez, Cha, Maloney, McCourt, Rogne & Murphy.

Then you have the injured and suspended players as well as those on the fringes and on loan:

Kayal, Ledley, Hinkel - Injured.
Commons - Suspended.
Stokes - Apparently left out for disciplinary reasons.
McGinn, Ljungberg, Cervi - Left out.
Hooiveld, O’Dea, Rasmussen, McGowan, Hutchinson, Conroy - On loan.

That’s getting up beyond 30 players and we also have 2 pre-contract first team signings in Adam Matthews and Kelvin Wilson and McGeough is said to be capable of breaking through quickly too. I’ve probably forgotten a couple also.

I think we need to strengthen the spine of our team. I’m not too gone on Forster but he actually finished the season very well. We definitely need another centre back, even allowing for Wilson’s arrival, and we also require a reliable and strong goalscoring striker.

A good chunk of those listed above will probably leave.

Christ that’s one awful song from Lynch.

Had been trying to find out about Stokes - could be curtains for him to be honest if he wasn’t in the squad for an important game like this. No point having him if he doesn’t enjoy the trust of the manager - same goes for Juarez too.

I’d get rid of all the loanees. Josh Thompson is also on loan, is he not? And Richie Towell also. Towell didn’t look great at Hibs anyway. Thomspon may be a bit better, being a defender he has more time to mature, but he’s hardly going to be in the first team plans. Rogne is certainly the centre half being developed and Toshney seems to be the one identified from the youths as the most likely to progress.

The ones I’d certainly keep are:

Wilson (cheap)
Rogne (hope)
Majstorovic (need experienced cover)
Izaguirre (excellent)
Mulgrew (versatile cover)

Brown (very important now)
Ledley (badly missed)
Kayal (legend)
Ki (growing importance but needs to step it up regularly)
Forrest (promising)
Commons (excellent)
McCourt (just so creative)

Hooper (excellent)

Players I’d consider keeping:

Maloney (attacking cover)
Stokes (if he’s going to play)
Samaras (if no bids)
Cha (cover)
Hinkel (if you could get a cheap deal)
Zaluska (cover)

Definitely get rid of:

Murphy (not good enough)
McGinn (definitely not good enough)
Juarez (not playing)
Loovens (no point)
Ljungberg (no point keeping)
All the loanees

Again I’ve probably left a few out but it does show that we have decent full back cover, we’re short at centre back, need a keeper obviously, sorted in the middle of the park with 3 to play there and Brown to cover, bit shorter wider, and we have a glut of strikers but only one we need to hold on to.

Carey, Josh Thompson and Towell are the only ones I think you’ve left out mate.

I think the list of players I’d keep is smaller than the ones I’d let go!

I think our squad should be something like this next season.


M. Wilson
K. Wilson



All the rest can go IMO. If we could then get a centre half, keeper, striker & winger of good quality I’d be delighted. I’d like to give Juarez the pre-season because I think he will prove himself if given a chance this season.

It could be completely false (and maybe wrong to post) but the rumour going around the huddleboard was that Stokes was caught bringing a bird into the hotel last night. :blink:

Yes, I knew I’d forget a few so add Thompson and Towell to the list. I think Hinkel’s a cert to leave - we were trying to sell him last summer when he had 1 year left and we’ll have 3 other right backs in Wilson, Cha and Matthews and he’s now out of contract. I wouldn’t mind if Cha left either.

Scott Brown only has 1 year left too. I’m not sure Celtic will be up for renewing him at his current salary so that could be interesting. I’d like him to stay as he’s had an excellent second half to the season since returning from long term injury in December. I’d cut our losses on Maloney - he fails to deliver too often for my liking and is way too injury prone.

Wouldn’t quibble with the rest of your ‘get rid of’ list. As ever, Juarez remains the mystery. I think he’ll leave but he’ll probably be a good player somewhere else.

Big improvement from Lennon. His lack of experience told, getting drawn into battles with the SFA and putting pressure on refs etc. Smith stayed quiet and let the results do the talking. Lennon will be up against a similar foe next year in McCoist and there shouldn’t be any excuses then. Maybe should have been more positive in the last game against the gers. They looked there for the taking that day.

Wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest about Stokes. What a clown that lad is.

List of Bosman players available:

Would certainly keep Forster if possible but money will liklely be a stumbling block.

Here’s a quick summary.

  • humiliated in Europe
  • lost a two horse race in shit domestic league
  • praying for a scottish cup win to gloss over the previous two points
  • best ra songs though

that is all

You forgot to mention the League Cup Final which Celtic lost to Rangers.