Posted on Tuesday, 12th March 2013 by admin
celtic-county.jpg”>Our writer Wan Matter had the misfortune to attend Saturday’s capitulation in Dingwall. Here’s his eyewitness report:
As the fans began to arrive in numbers up in the freezing but otherwise pleasant little town of Dingwall, a notable sense of expectancy seemed to radiate from the traveling fans who’ve been left severely dissatisfied on the road of late.
Since Joe Ledley announced his intentions of wrapping the league up early and getting an extended rest before July’s Champions League qualifying rounds, we have, for the third time this season, failed to build on a goal advantage to see off St. Johnstone. A decent first half performance chock-full of fluent movement and spurned opportunities was followed by a nervous, indifferent second half display that saw St. Johnstone take a deserved point from a match Lennon claimed they should never have been in.
Nevertheless, nights like that happen. We had created chances and at times in the first half, played some decent stuff. St. Johnstone were admittedly hard done by with the disallowed goal but when the dust had settled, a draw seemed a fair result. However, the same cannot be said about our dismal visit to Fir Park eight days later. Lennon opted to leave Efe Ambrose, Gary Hooper and Joe Ledley on the bench in favour of Thomas Rogne, Anthony Stokes and January signing, Tomas Rogic. Laborious from the off, Celtic failed to show the same kind of cohesion that saw them thoroughly outclass McCall’s side back in September’s 2-0 win. So it came as no real surprise when Chris Humphrey and Michael Higdon both capitalised on our defensive fragility to score either side of a Georgios Samaras header and secure the Steelmen’s first league win against us since February 2011.
For that reason, you could hardly blame the fans who’d made the long journey up North for expecting a much improved showing from the side. The fans arrived in good spirit – no doubt aided by the additional hours of drinking time the unusual 3 o’clock kick-off time had granted them. Injuries to six key players forced Lennon to ring the changes so in came Rami Gershon, Dylan McGeouch, Anthony Stokes and the much maligned Miku.
The opening exchanges progressed without significance as the fans kept themselves warm by gleefully singing “Here we go, ten in a row” for fifteen solid minutes. The chant may have been tedious well into its second minute but it epitomised the kind of atmosphere that had been sadly lacking in the previous away matches before Saturday. We only had to wait until the fifteenth minute for the first goal and I doubt there will be many as bizarre this season. Charlie Mulgrew’s in-swinging corner totally deceived County’s hapless keeper Michael Fraser who threw only an unconvincing flap in a feeble attempt at pushing the ball clear. But it wasn’t enough as Mulgrew watched his corner float straight past the embarrassed keeper to fluke us into a 1-0 lead.
It wasn’t long before Fraser was again called in to action, this time denying the terribly unimpressive Miku after some rare link-up play between himself and Hooper. But the luckless keeper would again come in for some serious stick from the County faithful. After some good work from Kayal and Stokes, McGeough clipped the ball back for Hooper who, at least in my opinion, attempted to find Miku in the box with a curling cross. The cross-come-shot caught Fraser cold and the keepers superfluous flap couldn’t prevent the ball from limply rolling in to the net for Hooper’s fifteenth league goal of the season. Twenty one minutes gone and it looked certain County’s hugely impressive ten game unbeaten run would be concluding at ten. We couldn’t have anticipated the complete capitulation we were about to witness.
With the fans in full voice, Celtic thought they’d dealt with Ian Vigurs’ searching free-kick in to the box. The resulting clearance landed to Kovacevic on the right hand side but Kelvin Wilson could only head the Swiss defenders hopeful cross on to the chest of Grant Munro who unleashed an unstoppable volley in to the roof of the net. The strike seemed to simultaneously waken Ross County whilst sending us in to the same nervous petrification that had haunted us in the aforementioned away fixtures weeks before. We only had to wait six minutes for their inevitable equaliser as Mulgrew and Ledley’s comedic efforts in dispossessing Vigurs resulted in a nutmeg for Mulgrew, a red face for Ledley and a goal for Sam Morrow. Wilson managed to flick Vigurs’ cross upwards but Morrow was more alert than the rest and got his reward as he stabbed the ball in to the net from close range. Anthony Stokes passed up our best chance of the match when Miku found him unmarked, with acres of space with only Fraser to beat. But despite having all the time in the world to take a touch and find the net, he took it first time and instead found the outside of the post with literally the last kick of the first half.
The second half was a totally unremarkable affair and our most notable chance fell to the largely anonymous Gary Hooper. After some decent work from Kayal, his through ball managed to find the advancing Hooper but his effort was palmed across goal, off the head of Kovacevic, on to the top of the crossbar and out for a corner kick. Following that, Ambrose maintained his recent run of shambolic form by sending Martin Scott through with a farcical yet painfully foreseeable blunder. Luckily this time for the Nigerian, Scott couldn’t make the most of Ambrose’s short headed back-pass and it was comfortably dealt with from Fraser Forster. County substitute Steffen Wohlfarth fired a glorious opportunity wide as the match headed for certain deadlock but he wasn’t to be denied a memorable last-gasp winner as a long, optimistic ball forward prompted Kelvin Wilson and Fraser Forster to hesitate. Their lack of responsibility allowed Wohlfarth to dart in and loop the header over an oncoming Forster to send the Ross County fans in to raptures.
It was no more than County deserved for their willingness to haul themselves back in to the match when all seemed lost but our players need to have a right, good look at themselves in the forthcoming days. There’s a severe lack of interest emanating throughout this side now that the Champions League campaign is over and it’s clear that there’s one or two players who simply do not want to be here any longer. Miku spent most the afternoon half-heartedly jumping for balls he had no real intention of winning and hiding behind defenders. He’s an easy target, I get that, but there’s simply no justification for his inclusion ahead of a much hungrier Tony Watt. He himself, doesn’t even look as if he wants to be out there. Gary Hooper spent most of the afternoon looking like he was more worried about where he and Kris Commons will be going golfing this summer and Stokes spent most of the game at best, on the fringes. McGeouch couldn’t build on some of his recent performances and was replaced by a visibly crestfallen Rogne who’s ball distribution might just be the worst I have ever seen.
Lennon now has a job on his hands. The confidence of this side seems to be at its lowest ebb and with a league to be clinched and a Scottish cup to be won, it’s absolutely vital we see an upturn in performance starting this weekend against Craig Brown’s horrific Aberdeen side who, if you take Dundee out of the equation, haven’t won an SPL match since before Christmas. Lennon said after Saturday’s performance that the team owes it to him to get their act together and prove they merit a place in side. But Lennon himself must accept that a huge slice of our recent slumps blame also has to stop at him. Fans have recently questioned the selection, tactics and substitutions of the side and with good reason too.
These recently displays are not the sort of showing the Celtic hierarchy would have been looking for as the days draw closer for fans to decide if they’ll be re-newing their season ticket for next season. Overall, Champions League included, it’s been a good season with some great memories but failing to win the Scottish cup could unravel all the good work put in over the season. If the side show up to Hampden next month with the same nonplussed attitude they’ve shown recently then make no mistake about it, McNamara’s Dundee United will make it two semi-final defeats in as many seasons for Lennon’s men. It’s time to learn from the repeated boot up the arse we’re being served on a fortnightly basis and get some silverware added to our already vast collection.
Follow the Author on Twitter – @WanMatter