Kilmarnock played the perfect defensive game to frustrate Celtic. Unable to play between the lines, Celtic’s efforts became increasingly imprecise as the game wore on. Kilmarnock can celebrate 1 win and 2 draws in a week in Glasgow.
As always, please consult the Glossary if any term definitions are needed.
Recent visitors to Celtic Park have found different ways to combat the Champions. Hibernian and Dundee achieved some success (one draw and one narrow defeat) with a high pressing and midfield man marking system. Kilmarnock, under new manager Steve Clarke, opted for a very deep and narrow 4-4-2.
Time wasting from the off, this was a throwback to the 1960’s and the classic away performance aimed at avoiding defeat. The Possession statistics illustrate the one-sided nature of the contest as regards ball retention, but not the true nature of the contest.
The telling statistic from the above is not the overwhelming Celtic passing volume and possession (74%), but Celtic’s Impect Pass % of 4%. Only 4% of Celtic’s passes – 33 passes, took out a Kilmarnock player. The away side were so compact and deep, it was very difficult to play between their defensive lines.
Faced with such a defensive block, what options did the home side have?
Celtic had to move the ball quickly and accurately to open up Kilmarnock. This early “give and go” between Johnston and Rogic offered a template but it was rarely repeated.
Kilmarnock were happy for Celtic to have the ball wide. Crosses into the box to the slight Griffiths, or back post crosses to either Roberts or Johnston were not high probability scoring manoeuvres. Arguably Celtic’s best chance came from a cross, but Griffiths is under pressure from two defenders and the ball goes over the bar.
This was not a day where luck ran Celtic’s way. Roberts was looking the most likely to create a chance through his ability to beat players on the dribble. A few times, before he succumbed to injury, he was able to get into the box and into positions to offer a pass to on rushing midfielders. That threat limped off with him on 30 minutes.
Celtic had to move the ball quickly to avoid Kilmarnock setting their 4-4-2 narrow shape. Kouassi was able to play a number of longer passes that moved the Kilmarnock defence out of shape, including the assist for the Griffiths goal.
The worrying aspect is that all the examples shown above occurred in the opening 7 minutes. Celtic looked like they had the array of options to open up the defence. Four shots were attempted in the first 7 minutes, and Celtic packed the Kilmarnock defence 5 times, with Rogic able to connect the play. Once that opening pressure was defended, it became increasingly easy for Kilmarnock to keep Celtic at arm’s length. 10 more shots followed for the Champions in the first half but only 3 were from inside the box, and only 2 on target.
One of those was the Griffiths goal, and at 1-0 up against a hyper defensive side, Celtic should have seen out the game.
The second half seemed to start in similar fashion with the away side more concerned with avoiding 0-2 than actually scoring.
From half time until the Kilmarnock goal on 60 minutes, the away side had 4 shots to 2, their first efforts of the game.
But the game went through a subtle momentum shift.
Whereas Kilmarnock completed only 67 open play passes in the first half, they completed 60 in the first 15 minutes of the second half. And they started to get through the Celtic defence. Up to the goal, Celtic managed 1 pack pass, from Johnston to Griffiths in the second half. Kilmarnock managed 14 and 2 pack dribbles in the same period. They managed 4 opposition box possessions to Celtic’s 3 in the same period. Whilst it would be a stretch to say that the equaliser was coming, it kind of was!
As usually happens, it was the culmination of a number of small events.
The break of the ball off Lustig, the rebound from the post finding a Kilmarnock payer, and an injured Ntcham being faced up in the box were all small details that went Kilmarnock’s way. However, it was a piece of quality pass and move from McKenzie and Jones to fashion a Big Chance for the calm finish.
Kilmarnock’s goal came at the perfect time. When teams adopt a defensive approach, and play without the ball, it is hugely physically demanding. Around about the 60 – 65th minute teams typically stat to tire, and spaces begin to appear. Kilmarnock scoring on the 60th minute gave them hope and belief. They had sufficient adrenaline to sustain the remaining 30 minutes in defensive shape.
For Celtic, despite bringing on Dembele (too late?), there was little created in the last 30 minutes. 9 shots were attempted but only 2 were inside the box. The best chance was Ajer’s header – the only time in 10 attempts Griffiths found a Celt from a corner. Shots from distance with 2% probability of scoring became the norm.
Celtic stopped doing the things that had brought openings in the first 7 minutes. There was little space for Rogic to operate his normal game between defence and midfield as the space simply wasn’t there. Rogic did not create a single chance, and 5 of his 7 shots were from outside the box. He lost possession 11 times, 6 more than any other Celt such was the pressure he was under.
Celtic may have benefitted from matching Kilmarnock’s 4-4-2 and having an aerial target in Dembele earlier as the wings was where the space was.
Clarke should be commended for setting his side up to play a perfect away performance.
Bhoy of the Match
Three of the back four racked up over 100 passes each, never a good sign! But the one who gave the ball away more than anyone (13 lost passes) is my Bhoy of the Match as this was a game where more risks needed to be taken with passing to get behind the deep defence. One player offered more creative threat than the others.
A CAT Score of 12 is what Dembele averages. 6 chances created compares with his per 90m average of 2.07.
A highly frustrating game, but the 62-match unbeaten domestic run of Maley’s Celtic was equalled.