Well we stuck with the 3-5-2. We forced Hamilton to play virtually everyone behind the ball, at home, in an SPL tie where they couldn’t afford to lose.
They took the lead. Celtic’s enemies are going to say that the red card changed the game.
But that’s the usual nonsense we have to endure every time a refereeing decision goes our way.
Let’s deal with the subject head-on.
The red card was shown because had the player not made the challenge Griffiths would have been one on one with the keeper and I know who my money would have been on for the successful outcome. That would have been 1-1 … and with our strength and talent we’d still have been overwhelming favourites to win.
And we would have won. Because we have just too much quality in this team.
That quality was revealed not only in what we had out on the park but in what we had available for the manager to bring on. It’s no secret that I think the manager was badly, colossally, let down by the board the past week – our fielding an academy player at central defence demonstrates that quite blatantly – but middle to front we have so many weapons in the armoury.
People looking at the score-line might not realise just how tight the game was.
That would be a shame because they’ll be missing one obvious fact; the talent of the Celtic manager.
I like tactical and strategy sims when I’m trying to relax, and the granddaddy of them all, of course, is chess and a close football game becomes a chess match in which the managers are the players … I’m always amazed at the number of people who closely follow football who don’t get that.
So you have move and counter move.
You try things and probe for weaknesses.
And you wait for your opponent to expose himself, and make mistakes.
Lennon’s substitutions were first rate.
They are what fundamentally altered the outcome in our favour, especially the last of them. The moment Hamilton gambled that they could maybe snatch something, and brought on Templeton, and sacrificed a man in midfield, Lennon knew what his own big gamble was.
Rogic came on. Their defence struggled to re-organise, and within a two minutes we had the lead.
That’s how long it took for Lennon’s tactical risk – and it was a risk alright, leaving just two central defenders, with no full-back support, to cover a vast area of the pitch – to pay off in spades.
It was the perfect move.
In the last twelve minutes we scored three.
Good managers make substitutions and hope they change the game.
Great managers wait for opportunities, make big decisions, and that decides the destination of titles.
Brendan Rodgers, at Ibrox, when we had ten men on the park, bringing on Edouard is one of the riskiest but undisputedly best tactical changes I’ve ever seen.
Today we were against the ten men, but to leave our defence exposed, knowing that there was an opening at the other end, and bringing on an attacking player to further stretch their back line … that was brilliance.
There are a lot of people out there who cannot see the woods for the trees when it comes to Lennon.
I never thought he should get the job. I thought there were better candidates out there.
But the truth is, he has grown as a manager and improved out of sight.
And his win ratio, which in his first spell at the club put him in the top five bosses in our history, is even more impressive this time around.
Those who ignore that and question his talent do need to consider what this guy has accomplished since he came in.
Our form this season has been incredible.
Our consistency has been unreal.
You heard Gerrard yesterday; he’s relying on “two Old Firm games” saving him because he knows we’re too good to slip up too often against the rest.
This has been a stellar campaign for them across the city; let’s give some partial credit where it is due. But our form has been even more impressive, and that is one of the things that is steadily grinding them down over there, reducing them with every week that passes.
They’ve put too much store in a single win at Parkhead, as if that was going to shatter the confidence in our team. It was never going to do anything of the sort. Our players put it in the rear-view and did what they always do; focussed on the next game.
The next one, not Ibrox in March as Gerrard and his side are already doing.
And that’s why we’re seven clear.
We have the clear blue water we needed and had hoped for in January. Even if they win their game in hand, the cushion is four points; that’s another Livingston and Hibs in quick succession, and we’d still be better off with a plus 9 goal difference … and that scenario assumes they keep on winning.
Our best winning run this season is eleven games without dropping points.
Their best run this season is five.
We’re just one game from having achieved that since returning from the break; Motherwell in midweek should take care of that nicely.
They are at home, to Hibs.
That was a good day today.
Neil Lennon and his players should feel well pleased with it.
We’re top, and you know what?
We’re bloody well staying there.