For the second game in a row, let’s talk tactics.
We genuinely don’t do that enough, because the team shape just doesn’t evolve enough to make it possible or necessary.
But that may be about to change. After we played with a 4-3-1-2 against Thistle the other night we played with a Martin O’Neill style 3-5-2 last night, right down to the wingers doubling as fullbacks whenever Kilmarnock counter attacked.
I was delighted when I saw that team, and realised what Lennon was doing.
One of the reasons the 4-2-3-1 has become the ubiquitous weapon of choice for the top clubs is its balance.
The only area where it seems to have a weakness is in its use of the single striker, but if you have two good players out wide who can cut into the box and score that’s no handicap. With a roving Scott Sinclair on one side and Forrest on the other in Rodgers’ first campaign it worked beautifully.
But for all that, I don’t think there is a more balanced formation than the 3-5-2 when it’s utilised right.
It’s not for nothing that it was formerly the choice of the top bosses. It requires the right sort of players, and especially out wide, but when you can find them you have something special. Last night Lennon got his team selection spot-on, and especially in picking Hayes on the left.
We all saw how well the tactics worked.
Kilmarnock had set up to play against the one-man strike force, and they had a clear plan to nullify Edouard, in spite of the clear warning from the weekend that we might try this. Even if they’d heeded that warning, doing something productive about it when faced with two goal scorers of our quality proved impossible.
This system, like the 4-3-1-2 is adaptable. When we attacked we were able to push Ajer up into the midfield, allowing Ntcham to slot into the “hole.” When we wanted to defend, Ajer could play as part of a three or slide into the anchor slot.
The full-backs are essential in either system, but with the 3-5-2 in particular because they have to play the dual role and track back as well as going forward, and this is where I thought the manager got it spot in selecting Hayes for the left, because he has proved to be adept at both.
He’s a very useful player to have around, a conclusion I’ve come to slowly but which I’m now fully on board with.
He had a decent game last night, although I’d love to see Bolingoli in that slot.
We outnumbered Killie in all the key areas. When they attacked they came up against three centre backs, and when our wingers got back it was a five-man defence. When they were in the middle of the pitch they were facing three midfielders, with Ajer occasionally joining them, and our players having options on either flank … and up front they faced a twin strike force with Ntcham frequently getting into the box in support. It overwhelmed them.
The manager’s changes are exciting to see. Two up front works well for us and there are a number of formations in which we can utilise it.
The test, for Lennon, will be when the likes of Forrest and Christie return; will he stick with it or will he revert back to the tried and tested?
I personally hope he doesn’t.
The 4-2-3-1 has served us well, but it’s become predictable and can be countered by a packed midfield and the high press.
Keep the opposition guessing, Neil.
And keep our two strikers on the park at the same time.