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BITTON AND THE BENEFIT OF THE DOUBT

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NIR BITTON has played 225 minutes at centre-back for Celtic this season and conceded once in that time; however, there have been questions over whether Celtic are strong enough to go into Wednesday’s UEFA Champions League play-off  against Astana with him in the starting XI. 

So with the player certain to be at the centre of attention over the next few days ( unless the Roberts deal is announced) we thought we’d have a closer look at Nir Bitton.

Beginning his career at FC Ashdod, his local team, the then 17-year-old broke into the first team and established himself as a defensive midfielder with flair.

 Bitton’s performances didn’t go unnoticed and the 21 year-old was signed by Neil Lennon’s Celtic in 2013 and made his competitive debut versus AC Milan at the San Siro as a late substitute. 

Michael Stewart used his Sunday paper column to question whether Bitton was able to play for Celtic in the crunch tie versus Astana on Wednesday after his display on Friday at Firhill. 

Stewart suggested that Anthony Ralston should replace the Israeli, with Mikael Lustig slotting in beside Jozo Simunovic. 

Bitton’s  late slackness on Friday night could lead to selection headache for Brendan Rodgers and his staff. Bitton was calm and collected for most of the match, with the exception of a few misplaced paces towards the wing. 

That was until Bitton ignored the call of Craig Gordon to take the ball away from the sprawling ‘keeper and allow Miles Storey to nip in. Storey ended up tumbling to the ground in theatrical style as he Thistle support cried for the penalty.

 This incident has apparently created the doubt as to whether Bitton is the man for the £30million matches versus Astana. 

The decision was not one of a centre-back, it was one of an adapting midfielder that was tiring as an early season match fizzled out. 

Some slack can be afforded as Andrew Dallas deemed the Israeli to have fairly kept the ball; but supporters are asking themselves if they can trust the club’s Champions League future on him. 

The two players seemed to have run into each other, collided and fell. The referee should give a penalty only if he is sure there was a foul however we have all seen them given.

Dallas gave Bitton the benefit of the doubt. 

At 25, Bitton is in the prime of his career and would need to provide something extra special to climb above Scott Brown, Stuart Armstrong, Olivier Ntcham and Calum McGregor in the Celtic midfielder hierarchy. Therefore, perhaps Bitton himself sees the move as beneficial to his career at Celtic.

Standing at 6ft 5in, Bitton is more than the right height for a centre-back. he can tower over attackers and use his height to win headers, especially when Celtic are under pressure at set pieces or when facing the ‘long ball’ into the box. 

A midfielder by trade, Bitton can use his eye for a pass and ability to drive with the ball to be that ‘ball playing defender’ that Rodgers has talked about. The best highlight of this would be his lovely weighted pass to Leigh Griffiths in last week’s win over Hearts. The Israeli took the ball out of defence and saw the run of Griffiths, who opened the scoring.

In the crucial match in Trondheim, Bitton was thrown into the deep end as Erik Sviatchenko limped off after just 25 minutes and the Israeli was brought on.

Bitton showed great composure at vital moments in the game and made a formidable partnership with Simunovic, which the Norwegians couldn’t breach. 

Perhaps the Celtic support should afford Bitton the benefit of the doubt, especially if selected to play by Rodgers on Wednesday night.

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