If Neil Lennon is to wrestle the Scottish Premier League title back from rivals Rangers, then a steady central defensive pairing has to be found.
That’s the brutal reality that the Celtic boss now faces after watching Glenn Loovens and Dan Majstorovic’s latest car crash “performance” in the 2-0 home win against Inverness on Saturday.
To some in the stands it was cringe worthy, but to others it was just plain embarrassing as Loovens and Majstorovic’s efforts in containing Gregory Tade – Inverness’ ONLY striker – turned into a comical hour-and-a-half double act. These two are an accident waiting to happen and any Celtic fan will tell you that they have had far more than their fair share of chances to get it right at Parkhead.
Granted, Majstorovic was a major player in a defence that came a whisker away from winning the title last term, conceding less than any of their league rivals but missing out on the championship by a single point.
However, one year on and it seems as though he has aged a decade in that time, looking slow, cumbersome and lacking in mobility. He also seems to have lost the limited ability he had last year in being able to win a routine header.
In terms of Glenn Loovens…well, the guy is – quite a simply – a walking disaster.
After his inept – and frankly heartless – display at Ibrox in a 2-1 defeat in 2009 – a game in which Kenny Miller utterly “rag dolled” him (I could think of no other words that summed up the event better than that!), he should have been told there and then that he would never play for Celtic again. Miller scored twice in the first half of that match, a game in which Loovens was pathetically outmuscled and out ran after letting the ball bounce instead of going to meet it for Rangers’ second. It was a decision you’d expect from an eight year-old at Primary school, not a Dutch internationalist.
But for some reason, both of these guys are still in the first team picture at Celtic and frighteningly could actually START against Udinese on Thursday night. For the life of me, I don’t know what Lennon sees in them, but until he sees what the rest of us see, then it could cost him his job.
For Celtic, the centre of defence is fast becoming a major problem. Taking both Loovens and Majstorovic out of the picture – and it really should be as easy as that – Lennon isn’t exactly filled with an abundance of talent.
Kelvin Wilson was brought in for a free in the summer and looked solid in his first few games. But his form in recent weeks has also taken a disturbing dip. His injury – he is out for ten weeks after hurting an ankle – might actually be a good thing for the former Nottingham Forest defender, as he bids to get his head right and back to his early season form.
Charlie Mulgrew was outstanding last term as a left-sided centre back and is probably Celtic’s best option in that position, ideally to play alongside Wilson. But Lennon, it seems, prefers him in a more advanced left midfield role – or even at left back – rather than a centre half.
Then there is the injury prone Thomas Rogne. There is definitely a player there inside the young Norwegian, but he is never on the park long enough for us to see it. If Celtic can get him fit, then a Rogne/Mulgrew partnership may well be the defensive pairing they’ve been crying out for.
If none of these players can step up to the plate in the next few months then Celtic could be in big trouble come Christmas and the January transfer window. Losing a fourth championship to a Rangers side virtually on its knees financially will simply not be acceptable and will result in Lennon losing his job. That’s why he HAS to get his defence right – and this was plainly highlighted by his side’s second half capitulation in the season’s first Old Firm game at Ibrox.
If he gets it right then he just might snare his side’s first league win in four years. if not, then he may well find himself on the dole while the likes of Loovens and Majstorivic continue to pick up a wage at his expense.