Strachan's plight deepens: Hartson strikes hat-trick but Celtic go off the rails again

Click to follow
The Independent Football

Only two months ago Martin O'Neill's last game in charge ended in misery and despair at the same ground when two late goals not only defeated Celtic and deprived them of the Scottish title but ultimately pitched them into that fateful European encounter in Slovakia in midweek. The Ulsterman's successor as manager did not expect an easy introduction to the job, but nor did he think that his grasp on it would be so insecure so quickly.

Strachan accepted that Celtic's Fir Park fiasco would have made good TV viewing, "but as a manager you wouldn't want to be watching. If you are in the team and the defending is like that you would have to turn it off," the Scot said. "To score four away from home is good going but to let in four like that means we will have to have a right good look at the defending. It needs to be sorted. We tried to change the back four today but similar results occurred so we have to come up with something. The reality is that we are not defending well enough. Sometimes you can put it down to unit defending and other times down to individuals not doing as well as they can."

He perhaps took the latter view of the disastrous start Celtic made to their Champions' League qualifying campaign in Bratislava. Out went Bobo Baldé from the back four for yesterday's encounter. "It wasn't an easy decision. He was perhaps unfortunate as you could have left one or two out at the back after the other night. Whether that was right or wrong only time will tell. He took it all right, I think."

It may not matter whether Baldé did or not as he may be moving to Marseilles, anyway. Whether or not he does, Strachan must consider bringing in a strong defender to bring order to the chaos at the back.

Strachan, whose sabbatical after resigning as manager of Southampton must already feel like a short break taken in the dim and distant past, might have been more worried about his side's ability to score the goals that should have raised their confidence yesterday. Chris Sutton has been ruled out for up to four weeks by the fractured cheekbone he suffered in a collision with Neil Lennon during the defeat by Artmedia and Maciej Zurawski, the Polish striker signed by Strachan, was also injured.

In the event, goals for were the least of Strachan's problems. John Hartson, his dependable Welsh international forward, wrapped up a first-half hat-trick with a penalty just before the interval to give Celtic a 3-1 lead. But as the hour mark approached two goals in as many minutes by Jim Hamilton and Scott McDonald put Motherwell level at 3-3.

From that point William Kinniburgh took on the lead role in this unlikely drama by first putting the home side ahead with a rare goal six minutes from the end and then leaving a nod back to his goalkeeper short enough to allow Craig Beattie to equalise.

What Strachan needs to know is whether the production is Hamlet or All's Well That Ends Well.