The biggest question Neil Lennon will face in the next week will be about who to play in goal at Ibrox.
Most of the other questions are already answered and those over which there is still some debate – Soro versus Brown, for example – will probably spin out the way most of us expect.
But the question as to whether or not we play Hazard is, for some, a difficult one.
Some of the hacks are already writing about this, but as usual many of the Celtic sites have beaten them to it. It’s hardly a new discussion, or one being had only in the press boxes. It is being had in living rooms and online forums all across the land.
One desperate hack wrote today that it would be an indictment of our signing policy to start the kid. He mentioned how we “dithered” over Fraser Forster. Nothing could be further from the truth. Forster wasted our time. The greater debate over whether or not we should have gone for David Marshall was worth having up to a point, but if we were going to have an aging keeper, past his best, on our books we’d have stuck with Craig Gordon instead.
It is only with hindsight that the Barkas deal looks less than solid, and only, finally, after our own manager has almost completely undermined his own player and shot his confidence all to Hell and gone. I hold Lennon almost solely accountable for the fact this debate even needs to be had; we paid £5 million for an international goalie. To banish him to the stands or the bench after a handful of games is lamentable and costly.
If it now seems necessary, fair enough; at no point was it inevitable.
When you buy a full international you expect to get something for your money. It’s not surprising to see a bitter clapped out hack who couldn’t spot a footballer if his life depended on it writing this guy off … what’s shocking is to see our own coaching staff do it almost casually.
I believe Barkas should start at Ibrox, but I also know what said hack apparently doesn’t; that no matter who we put in there, it will be a risk just the same. You could actually make a case for saying that the bigger risk, by far, is with all this chopping and changing.
The hack’s preference, if anyone cares, is for Bain, whose own error-strewn performances are the reason we’ve got a raw youth between the sticks at the moment.
None of the three options, going into that game, will please everyone or feel right to everyone.
None of them is a “safe pair of hands”, which is won’t be surprised no matter what Lennon opts to do.
The kid has as much chance of keeping a clean sheet as either of his rivals for the jersey. The decision as to who to play in front of him will be decided by who is fit and who isn’t, but to me that will have a greater bearing on the outcome than who plays in goals.
I would go for Barkas only because this is the kind of game he was signed for in the first place, and it is on that sort of stage that he has to rehabilitate his Celtic career. I don’t accept that Hazard playing could jeopardise his; the kid has enough credit in the bank that he’d be forgiven for a bad performance if it proved to be one. Barkas doesn’t have that luxury.
Lennon does have a big call to make here, there is no doubt about that at all, but if the defence and the midfield do their jobs and the strikers theirs then I don’t think who Celtic has in goal will be all that big an issue or a game changer.
Nobody at Celtic will be complacent over this, or take it for granted. We will leave that to the opposition.
Whoever starts can expect a difficult afternoon.
But Connor Hazard, despite his age and relative inexperience, is a talented boy and this is the sort of game he’s been waiting for. Young players aren’t made of glass, they are professionals who have already risen to a place few others ever will because of a superior mind-set and dedication to their craft.
If he’s picked, this game will be the making of him, one way or another.
It is nonsense to suggest anything else.