CELTIC captain Scott Brown has admitted the Parkhead club must learn to defend set pieces properly if they want to rediscover the form that made them Scottish football’s dominant force.
Brown and his team mates crashed to an ignominious 1-0 defeat to bottom-placed Premiership club Ross County in Dingwall on Sunday evening after they conceded a second-half free-kick.
The quadruple treble winners had dominated the match at the Global Energy Stadium and created a raft of scoring chances their manager Neil Lennon afterwards described as “gilt-edged”.
However, they failed to deal with Harry Paton’s delivery into their penalty box in the 71st minute or prevent Jordan White from getting on the end of it and heading beyond Scott Bain.
It has been a familiar tale for the defending Scottish champions in their ill-fated 2020/21 campaign – they have let in numerous goals at corners and free-kicks in the past seven months.
They are now 18 points behind their Rangers in the top flight table and their city rivals can clinch the title at the Old Firm game at Parkhead on March 21 – possibly even earlier.
Brown believes that Celtic must do better both defensively and up front if they are to get back to the level they were at before their calamitous campaign.
“Ross County had a game plan, stuck to it and they fought well throughout the 90 minutes,” he said. “We could have squeezed the game. It was a slack decision from us. It’s small margins of error and we’ve got to take responsibility for that.
“When you go up there, it’s always a tough game. We went up there at the start of the season and we didn’t play too well and won 5-0. At the end of the day, you’d probably take that (rather than) us playing well, playing nice football and not scoring the goals and losing a set-piece at the end.
“I thought we defended quite well throughout the game but it’s one set play and it’s those small margins in football that, you lose concentration for a few seconds, and he scores a header at the back post and gets a run on the lads. It’s something that’s pretty much been throughout our whole season.
“He (White) was between me and Kris (Ajer). It’s zonal marking, we work on it and it’s how we do it. We keep a line. It’s part and parcel of football. People want to do zonal, others want to do man marking. We do a mixture of both. We can stop the run, we can head it better. We need to look at it and right it tomorrow.
“It sums the season up. It has pretty much been our season to be honest. You go two, three, four wins in a row then have a defeat. It’s been hard for us to take to be perfectly honest. That’s not Celtic, that’s not us. We know we’ve not played as well as we possibly could have.
“We could have scored two or three goals against Ross County but we’ve got to take it on the chin and defend set-pieces a lot better as a team as well.”
Odsonne Edouard, Ryan Christie and David Turnbull all squandered excellent scoring opportunities in the first-half at the Global Energy Stadium and County goalkeeper Ross Laidlaw pulled off two outstanding saves from Christie and Mohamed Elyounoussi in the second. However, Brown feels that Celtic’s play in the final third wasn’t of an acceptable standard either.
“Every team misses chances, but we need to create a few more chances as well,” he said. “The chances we created were from their mistakes. We need to play better as a team. We just need to make sure the final ball is spot on and put on a plate for somebody.
“You go late, into the 91st, 92nd minute. We’re peppering the goal and we’re forcing mistakes and errors. To be fair, we still did that. It just wasn’t clear cut chances that were falling for us, it was half-chances and we maybe didn’t do enough in the final third for us to say that we deserved to win the game.”
Celtic’s hopes of winning the Premiership and completing 10-In-A-Row ended long ago, but Brown is determined for them to finish a wretched campaign on a high with a winning run and is keen to put the County loss behind them against Aberdeen on Saturday.
“We’ll take it one game at a time and we look forward to playing again this week,” he said. “We’ve got to focus on that game and make sure that we’re ready. The gaffer’s got to make sure that he’s got the best team out there possible and that we get a result and get back to winning ways as quickly as possible.
“That’s what this club is all about and this season’s not been great for us to be perfectly honest and the performance against Ross County probably sums up our season. We played not too bad throughout the 90 minutes, concede a goal and lose 1-0.”