Defence is Central to the Celtic Fight

Neil Lennon and the Celtic support were dealt a blow to their title aspirations this week with the news that towering Swedish centre-back Daniel Majstorovic will be out for the next six to eight weeks with a broken toe. Majstorovic who was withdrawn at half-time in Celtic’s home SPL win against Hamilton last Saturday had the news confirmed to him this week, original reports had only suspected heavy bruising.

The injury had a sense of inevitability to it for many fans after Celtic had failed to strengthen their defence in the January transfer window and now leaves them down to the bare bones in that position. Nottingham Forest’s Kelvin Wilson had already been signed on a pre-contract so you can understand why Celtic were reluctant to add anyone else to the squad long-term. Three times on deadline day Celtic went in with cash offers but Forest manager Billy Davies veto’d all attempts by Celtic to get Wilson up to Glasgow early and other targeted loan deals didn’t materialise. So now with only two fit and experienced recognised centre-backs at the club alongside utility man Charlie Mulgrew, Celtic could find themselves having to turn to youngsters if they were to suffer anymore mishaps. It should be stated of course that Mulgrew has cemented himself into the starting eleven with some stellar displays recently and his performances in at the heart of the defence will have softened the blow of losing another defender to injury slightly. Celtic do still have the much maligned Glen Loovens in reserve if as expected Thomas Rogne gets the nod to partner Mulgrew this Sunday up in Inverness.

The problem Celtic now have though is eight weeks is a long time to go at the business end of the season when still fighting for three trophies. If another one of Mulgrew, Rogne or Loovens were to join Majstorovic on the treatment table Celtic could then be forced to turn to young Lewis Toshney as cover on the bench. Toshney whilst having had rave reviews turning out for the ‘future squad’ the eighteen year old has only had one fleeting appearance in the first team coming on as a late sub in the win at Pittodrie in February. To be flung in at the deep end of a team chasing the domestic treble wouldn’t be ideal.

Another potential hurdle for the hoops is the fact that Thomas Rogne is walking on a suspension tightrope and is only one booking away from a ban. With the split fast approaching and the tougher games that come thereafter it might not be the worst tactic to aim to get that ban out of the way against a lesser opponent. The last thing Celtic need is to be headed to play Rangers at Ibrox in a potential title decider without the services of the big Norwegian being available to them. Likewise Mark Wilson finds himself in the same predicament teetering on the edge of an SPL suspension to go along with him missing the cup tie this weekend in the Highlands.

That takes us nicely on to the other option Neil Lennon has at his disposal and that is to move Mark Wilson inside from the right-back berth if needed. A tactic that was deployed with great success in the same win against Aberdeen at Pittodrie that Toshney made his debut. However with Cha still a number of weeks away from full fitness and the form Wilson has been showing of late this will be a last resort for the manager I suspect. Juarez could come in and do a job there at right-back also and that would let Wilson move but the Mexican has hardly set the heather on fire this season, although we will get to see what he is made of on Sunday as he will surely start the match in the place of the suspended Wilson.

Celtic’s misery defence has been one of the keys to their success this season but that has also been in part to the protection they get from the settled midfield in front of them. Brown, Ledley and especially Kayal have been outstanding since the turn of the year and they will need to show the same level of defensive duties in the coming weeks. Big Dan’ as Majstorovic is fondly referred to by the supporters hasn’t exactly been the rock solid defender that the fans were hoping for when he signed and he has had a few hairy moments at times this season. In saying that he will be missed by them and his teammates as he does have that presence and stature that relays confidence in those around him, he’s always been there to stick his shiny head in where it hurts and that kind of commitment and bravery can go a long way in making up for a lack of technical ability at times. It’s no coincidence Majstorovic takes the captains armband in the absence of Scott Brown.

With another Glasgow derby in the offing in the CIS Cup Final a week on Sunday and every SPL game a must win scenario with Rangers breathing down the leaders necks, Celtic and their fans will be praying for no more injury set-backs and wishing ‘Big Dan’ a speedy recovery.