The relatively rare occurrence of Saturday night football in Scotland threw up a cracker of a cup tie as Celtic and St Mirren went toe-to-toe for a place in the quarter finals of this season’s Scottish Cup.
Six goals, two penalties, a sending off, Oh’s first goal in the Hoops, Celtic’s 100th goal of the season, a controversial banner about VAR (kinda!) – and ultimately Celtic through to the next round.
What else do you want from your Saturday night’s viewing?
The unexpected bonus on the night however was the post-match entertainment provided by Ange Postecoglou and former Celtic manager Gordon Strachan as they dissected the game for the viewers at home as part of Viaplay’s live coverage.
Just two wily old campaigners talking shop about the game we all love.
And it was magic.
THE STRACHAN LINK AT CELTIC
Gordon Strachan will always be fondly remembered for what he achieved during his four years at Celtic Park between 20015 – 2009 as his side lifted six trophies and registered a number of memorable nights in the Champions League.
His main link to the club nowadays however comes via son Gavin, who now forms a key part of Ange Postecoglou’s coaching staff.
As part of his post-match analysis Strachan was quick to highlight the exceptional fitness levels that Celtic are currently showing under Ange – going as far to suggest that even the coaches are benefiting from it!
“Your fitness levels are fantastic.
How has Gavin lost at least a stone? You’ve done incredibly well with that. We’re wondering how he’s done it?
To take your team to that fitness level, AND your coaching staff – that’s absolutely fantastic!”
The Australian smiled and conceded that he would be the last person to criticise the fitness levels of any of his staff, but went on to note more seriously that his players take as much pride in their fitness as they do in their football.
“To produce that football and to keep that technical level going and going you have to be superfit and that’s what these guys have got.
Sometimes when teams line up against Celtic you can see them thinking ‘I’d rather be somewhere else’. It’s a great psychological weapon to have.”
THE TACTICS BOARD
Earlier in the conversation Gordon Strachan highlighted the notable change in approach that St Mirren had taken to the game.
Rather than sitting camped on the edge of their own box like many teams do when visiting Celtic Park, Stevie Robinson’s team engaged in a bolder strategy by pressing Celtic far higher up the park than the Bhoys have been used to of recent.
Ange admired the tactics adopted by the Paisley side, but explained that it’s something that he and his side were more than ready for.
“We try and keep working on things that we don’t do on a weekly basis.
Especially the last few weeks, we’ve kind of been faced with the same challenge.
What you don’t want to do is go into another game just prepared for the same challenge.,
The good thing at the moment is that this week especially we had a full week without a midweek game so we kind of worked on different scenarios, worked really hard on playing out from the back under pressure.
They (St Mirren) came at us today but when they do come at you they’re using energy, so as long as we stay calm on the ball…”
A key part of Ange Postecoglou’s style of play that’s often overlooked is just how much energy it takes out of the opposition.
We know just how good Celtic can be on the ball, and when you have talents such as Callum McGregor, Jota and Aaron Mooy dictating the play it can be extremely difficult for those that they’re up against to even get on the ball for any significant time.
Imagine just how draining it is for our opponents to spend an hour of football with rarely more than 25% possession – only to then look up to see that Celtic are about to replace three of their players with another three of equal quality.
We seen this to devastating effect against St Mirren as Reo Hatate, Matt and Oh entered the fray and within thirty minutes had completely obliterated the Saints.
CELTIC’S TOP AND TAIL APPROACH
What’s incredible about Celtic just now is just how often they score in the opening AND closing 15 minutes of games.
It’s not by chance that Celtic come out of the traps so quickly these days and of our 25 league games this season we’ve scored 15 times in the opening 15 minutes.
In the last 15 minutes we’ve gone one better by scoring 16 times at that stage in the game.
It’s a devastating combination and one that our opponents here in Scotland are struggling to handle.
Gordon Strachan put it to Ange just how concerned he was for St Mirren the longer the game progressed.
“We thought when they got to about 65 minutes it’d be a real problem (for St Mirren) and they needed something at that point, maybe a goal.
But (Celtic) kept going at it and then you took them to your ‘problem solving area’ which you’re very good at – 35 yards out – and you loved it!
You can always find a way through!”
The manager replied by emphasising the key message that seems to apply every time his side now take to the park.
“You know what it’s like, even if they (St Mirren) got a goal, got a little bit of joy that would spark us up again and we’d go again.
That was the message at half-time was stay really strong, stay disciplined in our structure and eventually they’ll break if we persist, and the lads stuck to it.”
Before Ange first entered the building back in June 2021 there were calls for him to be joined at Celtic by a Director of Football.
Names like Shaun Maloney (now managing Wigan), Fergal Harkin (now at Standard Liege) and even Ange’s current Assistant Manager John Kennedy were mentioned for the role.
Odd times indeed.
Unsurprisingly Gordon Strachan was also touted for the role around that time, and given the easy rapport between the two men you can see why this might have worked.
Just one small factor put the brakes on any such appointment however…
Ange didn’t (and doesn’t) want to operate under a Director of Football!
It’d be a shame not to pair the two up once again however if the opportunity presents itself.
Once their days in football are over – and hopefully that’s a long way off for both – then we may just found our next big Saturday night TV duo!