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8 of 010 -----L SPL A

Neil Lennon’s men take a chance with profligate performances

Graeme Macpherson at Celtic Park

13 Sep 2010

There was a faintly amusing moment during this Celtic win when Neil Lennon charged forward from his technical area, intent on taking issue with referee Willie Collum over some matter or other, only to lose his balance and fall flat on his backside.

The home crowd behind the dug-out tried desperately to suppress a snigger at the sight of their manager toppling over in his eagerness to press home a point, while Lennon, being Lennon, simply got up and continued where he had left off, berating the officials for apparently getting it wrong.

It remains Celtic’s only slip-up in the league this season. Four games, two at home and two away, have yielded four victories. Nine goals have been scored and none conceded, meaning they lead Rangers on goal difference at the top of the Clydesdale Bank Premier League. In the pursuit of a first title in three seasons, Lennon could have done no more.

If there is to be a criticism of their start to the campaign – and there is always room for improvement, after all – it is that they could, and should, have scored many more. It may seem churlish to censure any side after a 3-0 victory but Lennon will know that stiffer challenges await his side when they will not have the luxury of passing up half a dozen or more decent chances and still running out winners.

Against Hearts the volume of frustrated yelps from the home fans seemed to rise in correlation with the number of simple opportunities missed, with Celtic too often trying to walk the ball into the net.

I just wish we were more clinical at times, we missed some decent chances and goals change games

Neil Lennon, Celtic manager

Shaun Maloney, who otherwise enjoyed an excellent game, was one of the chief sinners but he was not alone. Daryl Murphy, Anthony Stokes, James Forrest and Georgios Samaras also all failed to score from favourable positions after breaking through a defence whose inconsistent offside line offered little protection to goalkeeper Marian Kello.

“I just wish we were more clinical at times, we missed some decent chances and goals change games,” said Lennon, although there would have been plenty of other aspects of his team’s forward play that would have pleased him.

Most impressive was the way the two strikers and two wide players operated as a fluid front four, interchanging regularly to try to find different ways to unlock the Hearts defence. Maloney benefited most from this. It is still difficult to pinpoint what his best position is but he seemed to flourish when moved into a central role just behind Murphy, scoring Celtic’s second from such a position just before half-time.

Murphy had spoken beforehand about the ferocity of the competition for places in attack but he did enough here to merit his inclusion, albeit he didn’t score. The Irishman held the ball up intelligently and showed a good awareness of what his team-mates were trying to do around him. Only a weak finish straight at Kello in the second half blotted his copybook.

Stokes enjoyed a lively debut – making good runs and dropping deep to assume possession - although his over-eagerness often led to rash decisions, twice running on to passes when he was clearly offside and the balls were intended for others.

He may also have been slightly bemused to find himself shifted out to wider areas to accommodate Maloney in the middle, presumably not what he had expected after forging a reputation as a penalty box sniffer during a prolific season at Hibernian.

Even Samaras seemed to be operating with greater urgency than normal, appearing off the bench for a late cameo that could have yielded a hat trick. The Greek was unfortunate to have a goal chopped off for offside before an exhibition of poor finishing, as well as some good goalkeeping, denied him on other occasions.

Defensively, Celtic again looked reasonably solid. They survived early scares when Fraser Forster, the on loan Newcastle United goalkeeper, saved from Kevin Kyle and Suso Santana struck a post, but recovered to squeeze Hearts out of the game.

There will be concerns about another unconvincing display from Glenn Loovens at centre-back and Cha Du Ri’s tendency to get caught out of position on the right, but those fears will be offset by promising home debuts from both Emilio Izaguirre and Forster.

Lennon also has a dilemma to consider in central midfield, where Celtic looked much livelier and threatening once Biram Kayal had replaced captain Scott Brown.

It was another substitute, though, that again stole the show. Paddy McCourt’s late introduction to games has the effect of a sudden caffeine rush, reinvigorating a flagging crowd. His injury-time goal, where he drifted past two defenders before dinking the ball over Kello, will be among the contenders for the goal of the month.

Hearts, by then, had already given up. They left Celtic Park harbouring a sense of grievance at decisions they felt had gone against them, manager Jim Jefferies seething that Murphy was not flagged offside when he sped through to find Forrest for Celtic’s first, and that David Templeton was not awarded a penalty when he appeared to be upended by Izaguirre.

Those instances aside, though, Hearts didn’t pose a consistent threat, a real disappointment to those who had arrived at Celtic Park expecting a genuine contest. In the end, it was only profligacy that threatened to derail Celtic’s perfect start to the league season.

Taken from the Herald

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