Celtic are trudging their way through a very difficult season and will surely just want this to be over as quickly as possible.
With hopes of their tenth consecutive Premiership title all but thwarted, all the Hoops can do now is shift focus to next season, where they will vie to snatch back their crown.
A lot of factors have caused Neil Lennon’s side to slip behind runaway leaders Rangers, however, their main issue has been the backline.
Celtic have had few defensive options to deploy this term and have been rocked by the injuries to Christopher Jullien. According to Transfermarkt, the centre-back has missed 29 games this season alone through problems with his knee and back. He also missed a further three fixtures due to needing to self-isolate along with Lennon and 12 of his teammates.
Shane Duffy has been an underwhelming loan signing since he joined from Brighton in the summer. Talks were even swirling over whether Celtic would be cutting his deal in Scotland short due to his disappointing performances. Since he survived the chop in the January transfer window, he has been demoted to the bench in favour of rising talent Stephen Welsh, and it would be very surprising if he remained at the club longer than beyond the end of this current season.
And in his absence, Welsh has put in back-to-back solid performances alongside stalwart Kristoffer Ajer. This new found duo have been extremely positive when working together, bagging two wins out of two and Welsh contributing a goal against Motherwell.
However, the young Scot still has much to learn and Celtic also run the risk of losing Ajer in the summer. Plenty of clubs have registered interest in his services, but AC Milan look dangerously close to snapping him up.
Hatem Abd Elhamed is also set to leave Parkhead after Lennon confirmed a move back to Israel is all but finalised for the homesick centre-back.
A hidden option lies in loanee Jack Hendry, who seems to have been forgotten over recent years. The 6’3 colossus is currently representing KV Oostende and has made 19 starts out of a possible 24 in the Jupiler League this season. He also contributed two goals, one assist and four clean sheets, as per Transfermarkt.
In fact, compared to Duffy, Hendry has contributed more clearances, tackles and blocks per 90 minutes. He also commits less fouls, which highlights how much more he can keep a level head than the Brighton loanee, according to WhoScored.
And if, Hendry’s greater ability to play out from the back – he averages a better passing accuracy compared to Duffy (85% to 82.8%) – makes him that much more of an appealing option than the Irishman, who’s been prone to giving away possession rather cheaply.
But if recent reports are to be believed, Hendry could remain in Belgium at the end of the season following the expiry of his loan deal in Belgium.
Oostende’s sporting director, Gauthier Ganaye, has come out and said: “We have a loan with a purchase option. If we take that option and we can convince him, he will stay with us longer.”
But given his performances for the club, the 25-year-old has surely done enough to at least warrant a chance back at Celtic at least in pre-season, when Lennon could take another look at him before deciding what to do.
His manager at the Belgian side, Alexander Blessin, hailed:”When I speak to Jack, I don’t understand a word he says. But his team mates do because he’s a great talker in defence. He makes the people he’s playing with better. You can see them listening to him. He’s been a tower of experience for us. Jack’s the most important member of the team this season and he’s one of the best defenders in the league.”
Sometimes a loan spell away for a player, and the chance to play regular first-team football can be the key to help them discover their form, and the Hoops could well profit from the 6 foot 4 Hendry’s campaign away from Scotland.
Lennon must consider utilising the £900,000k-rated defender in the senior team, especially if options continue to deplete. Given that he’s played just 27 times in total for the Hoops, and was even sent out on loan in the first place, it would certainly be a surprising call from the Celtic boss to give Hendry another chance to impress.
But given his displays this season, it’s well worth a shot, especially when you consider Celtic should be trying to shake things up after a dismal campaign themselves.
In other news, Stephen Welsh shines for Celtic in narrow Motherwell win…