The talk is of previous years. That everything was all right on the night after Dubai. The break made us stronger and refreshed. That was then and this is now. While I’m confident that we can push on, I’m also comfortable with the fact that it may not happen and that there will be many reasons for that, but the main one will be that our rival is matching us step for step. Where we are is normal, where they are is new territory.
We were a missed penalty from being eight points clear. We failed to recover from that miss and it haunts. It haunted the game and the crowd from that moment. It’s haunted for three weeks. We have doubts. It’s ok to have doubts. It’s also ok to have blind hope.
Will both teams be able to keep up their phenomenal run of form? For us, our two defeats have been horrific performances. Our draw was unlucky. Will that be the story in the second half of the season and are we really looking at having to go 18 games undefeated to win the league? Time will tell, but history points to that not being the case. But if it has to be the case then we better strap ourselves in to find out whether the players and coaching staff can deliver.
I’m wanting the team to regain its aggressive creativity, energy and flair. If we get that back and we fail, so be it. We have 18 games and hopefully no regrets will be felt when they are done.Listen to the latest episode of the award-winning A Celtic State of Mind
Previous trips to Rugby Park have either been triumph or tragedy for the Hoops, and Wednesday has the ability to go either way.
On Celtic’s last visit to Rugby Park, a certain Scott Brown won the league with his deflected last-minute winner, but Celtic had lost their previous two visits down the coast and this tie has the potential to cause more trouble.
Celtic are a team shy of goals recently despite averaging two goals per game, there seems to be a lack of clear-cut chances being created and a real hesitancy to shoot from distance. In a game which can be as close as this, having a go from around the end of the area can be the difference. Thinking back, Celtic have experience of this before with goals from Nir Bitton and Tom Rogic over the years.
It’s good to see Kristoffer Ajer returning back to the squad with the centre-back position really causing concern with a lack of depth. Jozo Simunovic is unlikely to play, with concerns over his knee on plastic surfaces, so Ajer’s return to fitness has come at a good time. Also within the defence, Greg Taylor should retain his place at left-back following a solid performance against Partick, the fact he is comfortable on this park and knows the ins and outs of Kilmarnock are an added benefit.
In the midfield, the diamond formation adopted on Saturday didn’t seem to suit how Celtic like to play with both Taylor and Frimpong reluctant to go too far forward. At times, the full-back position seemed to be the area that Thistle targeted and got the most joy from. Being completely honest, Kenny Miller will never get an easier chance this season to score!
I’d expect Lennon to return to the 4-2-3-1 formation which has become the staple of Celtic’s play ever since Ronny Deila was in charge. With Mikey Johnston returning to fitness, he could be given the chance to show his worth, however, with current injuries and suspensions, we are short on wingers. Leigh Griffiths is an option to come in from the wing, or could we see a return from the wilderness for Marian Shved? Lennon spent a lot of time in Dubai speaking about how much Shved impressed him, so it was a bit of a surprise not to see him in the squad on Saturday night. With Forrest confirmed to be out, it could be an option for Celtic to go with Shved, Rogic and Johnston as the three behind Odsonne Edouard.
Daniel Arzani made his return to the squad following his horrific injury against Dundee last October and many fans will be hoping to see a glimpse of him over the coming weeks. Its a phrase that has been used to cover up Celtic’s lack of transfer dealings before, but in this instance it is okay to refer to Arzani as ‘almost like a new signing’ as he has only played about 30 minutes in total since arriving from Man City. I wouldn’t be against Celtic renewing Arzani’s loan deal and, considering they have helped his rehabilitation, I would hope that Man City would be receptive to that option too.
Killie come into the game off the back of a 6-0 victory over Queen’s Park on Saturday, which helped shift quite a few hoodoos that had been hanging over them since Angelo Alessio’s departure back in December.
Saturday marked Kilmarnock’s first goal in over 540 minutes of competitive football, stretching back to their 2-2 draw with Hibernian in November. It was also Alex Dyer’s first victory in charge following a run of successive 1-0 defeats to Motherwell, Rangers and St Mirren. Incredibly as well, Chris Burke had six assists on Saturday, which is believed to be a world record!
Wednesday should be a good test for Celtic as they continue on the charge towards their ninth league title in-a-row and a good opportunity to bounce back from the performance on 29 December. I expect it to be a difficult game for the Hoops but, with the returning options, I feel we should have just enough to get past this tricky Kilmarnock side.
I’m going with Celtic to win 2-0 and Callum McGregor to score anytime.
Veteran Burke provided an incredible six assists for Wednesday’s opponents Kilmarnock in a 6-0 Scottish Cup win over Queen’s Park. Yet, equally incredibly, those were Kilmarnock’s first goals since 30 November. 0 goals in 5 SPFL matches.
Killie have struggled to replace Clarke’s defensive surety and now, after an exotic interlude with Alessio, have Dyer as boss until the end of the season.
The warning, as always, for Celtic is despite that run and a 7th position, the Ayrshire side’s home form on their plastic is not bad. Only The Rangers and this season’s surprise league side, Motherwell, have triumphed at Rugby Park. 16 of 23 points have come here.
Three of Killie’s Cup six came from centre-backs and another from new signing, the 6’3″ Kabamba. Celtic need to improve aerial defence. With Bitton out, Simunovic plastic averse and Ajer a doubt, that has to be a concern.
Kilmarnock are a quite settled side with only 1.9 changes per 90m average. The midfield three of Power, Dicker and El Makrini are a constant – 13 league bookings between them. They tried a mobile front three versus the Spiders but may revert to the big lad for this clash.
Even in the SPFL, Burke is their main creative spark with 0.44 scoring contributions per 90m – and that is their real weakness. Brophy top scores with three goals but is injured and in any case his paltry 0.25 scoring contributions per 90m would see his place under threat.
Only St Johnstone have scored less than their 17. An On Target Shot Conversion of 24% is only better than St Mirren. However, they have kept a clean sheet in 40% of matches, bettered only by the top two. Equally, at the other end their opponents are only scoring from 25% of all shots – the second lowest behind The Rangers.
Who knows what state Celtic will be in injury-wise, and how Lennon will set up on a dreadful pitch? But the numbers point to a low-scoring and attritional game.
I’m going 1-0 Celtic with Rogic to come good.Watch Professor Willy Maley with A Celtic State of Mind