Let’s talk for a minute about The Grind.
Football managers are not purists. I read Davie Provan the other day and a load of utter cobblers about how Brendan Rodgers needs to change his philosophy for games against top European teams. This “go for goals” stuff is so yesterday, if you believe the hack who never once anted up and tried coaching or managing. How simple it must look from the press box.
Brendan is not above doing it ugly.
Today he made some radical changes because we needed a goal. He went with two up front. He changed the system of the team.
And it worked. The moment he had what he needed, knowing we weren’t going to be terribly threatened because for Ross County to change their system would have invited more goals, he brought off Dembele and put on a midfielder. It was classic Brendan Rodgers.
He is, in spite of Provan’s nonsense, a pragmatic man. But he’s a pragmatic man at a huge club, and a huge club will simply not tolerate a game plan which seeks to do damage limitation. If we want to get better in Europe putting eleven behind the ball won’t cut it.
Grinding it out does not have a distinguished history. It will never be appreciated the way the artistry of Barcelona is. Yet is undoubtedly effective. Jose Mourinho has made an entire career, and won the Champions League trophy more than once, on building teams which can pack his own penalty area and hold a defensive shape. His teams are not as defensive as all that – he would never have won so much if they were – but they are often horrible to watch.
Owen Coyle’s team was dreadful to watch today. Had we got a draw I would have griped at that, but Coyle is a not a manager known for swashbuckling football; we would have had to endure that kind of performance and worse every week had Celtic ever appointed him. Yet like Smith’s dire Rangers team we would have been effective.
Back in the 1980’s, an English manager, Alan Durbin, visibly bristled when asked to justify an atrociously negative display against Arsenal, at old Highbury. He was asked if he felt any responsibility to put on a show for the fans.
He appeared disgusted by the idea; “If you want entertainment,” he famously said, “go and watch a bunch of clowns.”
The Grind has its place in the game. Clubs like Ross County survive on it. They keep their SPL place built on it. They qualify for Europe sometimes because of it. And no club ever wins a championship or a trophy unless they have the ability to do the same.
The only thing that can always defeat The Grind is magic, a single shining moment of it which puts that team behind and forces them to change the plan. Today’s moment of magic came from Griffiths, of course, but we have a team of players capable of producing a moment of excellence and that’s why I think we’d have won today regardless of that special free kick.
But that free kick was truly wonderful to watch. Its execution was flawless. It was a true moment of greatness at a moment when the pressure was on. Earlier in the week I talked on Facebook about Nakamura and my long-held belief that whilst he was at Parkhead we had the best free kick taker on the planet in our ranks; he would have been proud of that today. If you felt a stab of warm familiarity as that ball hit the back of the net, that’s why.
We weren’t brilliant today; on a pitch that looked like a hippies hair-do and against a team determined to stifle any creative intent we showed, and against a referee who booked two Celtic players for their first infractions whilst letting Ross County basically rough-house us from start to finish, it was a hard won three points and another record set.
This team has every attribute required to put together another invincible campaign. Today was as stiff a test as we would have wished to receive; of our patience, our composure, our discipline and our ability to conjure something out of nothing.
We passed the test, but all credit to Ross County for making us grind it out.
I wouldn’t want to watch it every week, but it will put points on the board for them.
One last thing … I’ve been hearing putrid nonsense for months about how our record, our great unbeaten record, our Invincible campaign, is somehow devalued. No team that has to go up against what we did today has any right to go over 60 games without losing … that record is monumental and on a day like today you can see that clearly. Those people are bitter, nasty, Sevconite dolts who simply don’t understand, or care to understand, how the game works.
It takes almost unbelievable dedication and commitment to get results like that in games like this.
Our players can’t get enough credit for it as far as I’m concerned.