Celtic finally broke the Livingston hoodoo on Sunday afternoon when they clinched a 3-1 victory at Almondvale. They maintain the three-point cushion over Rangers at the top of the Premiership standings, yet their custodian Joe Hart received criticism from The Athletic’s Celtic correspondent Kieran Devlin.
Andrew Shinnie poked the ball under the Englishman after the Hoops failed to deal with a long Livingston throw. Hart should have shown more command by charging forward, instead, he stayed on his line and allowed the Livi midfielder to react sharply in a crowded goalmouth. Celtic are the least conceding side in the league, but the underlying issue is quite concerning.
The Bhoys’ frailty while defending set-pieces has been a season-long problem. They are the third-worst side in terms of conceding from set-piece situations (after Ross County and Aberdeen) and the gaffer needs to address this mini-crisis to avoid a major blow in the title race.
Why Celtic Must Resolve The Crisis Collectively
Although the Hoops are the least conceding side (18) in the league, 10 out of them have been from set-pieces so far this campaign. Hart can’t be blamed all alone for this vulnerability, as the likes of Cameron Carter-Vickers and Carl Starfelt need to be more dominant in such scenarios.
Despite Celtic’s aggressive brand of football, the central defensive pairing of Carter-Vickers and Starfelt have been spot on with timely tackles, blocks, interceptions as well as clearances while dealing with the opponents’ swift counter-attacking movements. Now they have to be more composed and confident against long balls and crosses.
Hart, on the other hand, is not comfortable as a sweeper-keeper. He hesitates at times to close down an attacker and their shooting angle, but the profound experience and sense of positioning make the ex-England ‘number 1’ an assured starter between the sticks. His summer arrival has resolved the goalkeeper conundrum after last season’s horror show from Vasilis Barkas and the former Manchester City shot-stopper is also enjoying his time north of the border overcoming a few difficult years back in the homeland.
While it’s going smooth in the league, their shambolic European form shows why there are a lot of things to improve in the defensive third. Postecoglou, too, has not tweaked his gameplan against stronger opponents and these small bits might expose their limitations in the forthcoming future. Hart, along with his teammates and the manager, must sort this out prior to next month’s Old Firm derby at Ibrox.