FOR the man who was held up as an angel last season at Celtic, the devil is in the detail when it comes to his defence this time around.
Scott Sinclair took Scottish football by storm during his maiden season in Glasgow, sweeping up Player of the Year awards like some sort of trophy Hoover while banging in a goal every two games with 25 from a startling 50 appearances.
Given that stratospheric start, it was always going to be difficult, if not impossible, for the former Manchester City man to rocket even higher down the left for Celtic just as he did prior to the summer. Indeed, with Celtic already 38 games into this campaign, Sinclair is potentially the player onlookers would have suggested was in most need of a break given some of his performances of late. Most notably against Rangers on December 30 when he failed to create much from the flanks and missed two glaring chances in front of goal before being substituted midway through the second half.
Yet, the statistics don’t quite back up the school of thought that the 28-year-old is suffering from a second season hangover, as his manager was quick to point out.
“Scotty has scored 15 goals and had 12 assists,” said Brendan Rodgers. “If you actually look at it, we’ve got James Forrest who has been absolutely brilliant for us for us this season –maybe Player of the Year and who has been amazing – he’s got 12 goals.
“The guy on the other side – who is supposedly having a disastrous season – has scored 15 and created 12.
“Again, maybe it’s about the level people expect Scotty to be at. But he’s contributing. His job is to press the game defensively, to work hard up and down the line, and to create goals and score goals. Is he doing that? Yes he is. You can maybe ask if he’s being marker tighter with the space blocked out a bit more. He’s maybe missing chances too.
“But he’s still a real valuable asset for us and he’ll be fresh and ready for the second part of the season. Could be explode in the second half of the season? He’ll do his best. That’s what I know I’ll get from him. He just had such an incredible season last season in terms of numbers. But I expect him to do something similar this season.
“But it’s different measures around players. But he’s contributed very importantly for us. He’s been fantastic.”
To have Sinclair have direct involvement of 27 of Celtic’s is a hugely significant number, no matter how his general play has been. He’s contributed to 32 per cent of their total goals this season, which is not bad going. You also have the school of thought defences are becoming wise to his tricks and are doubling up on him at every opportunity.
The game against Rangers aside, the saving grace for Sinclair is perhaps the fact his final ball into the box or shot on goal is still as good as it ever has been.
“There aren’t many wingers who give you the end product Scotty gives the team. You think of last season and then this season, it’s incredible really,” said Rodgers. “He’s virtually a striker playing in from the side.
“But he’s been absolutely great for us. Like I say, he’s only human, Sometimes he won’t be at his best but what I know, he always give his best.
“There are times when he’ll come off in a game because I’m having to change it and look at something else. But in terms of what he’s asked to do for the team – create and score goals – and he can’t do any more.”
Sinclair has not been the only one criticised for a dip in form on last year’s heroic Invincible treble-winning season. The team as a collective has been accused of dropping down a level at times compared to what had gone before in Rodgers’ first season. And there is an element of truth in that.
Last season Celtic only dropped eight points all season without losing a game, while half way through this campaign that tally already stands at 15 with a domestic game defeated along the way. However, an element of realism must come into play when you consider the Celtic manager has still won 63 per cent of all games played across all competitions this term, a fact to keep in mind when the perception is that standards have slipped.
“It’s impossible,” said Rodgers of keeping up the form of last season. “I don’t think you can, that’s why it was a one-off historical season. But I still think we’ve been very good. There have been some brilliant performances this year.
“And to cope with the games that we’ve had has been great. It’s not just the games, remember, but the pressures that come with them. And what the games do to the players physically and mentally.
“That’s why I have such an admiration for the group itself. We put things in place to try and cope with the disappointment along the way but the players have been absolutely in terms of dealing with that. No-one can really imagine the pressure a player is under. When you play in the Champions League it’s six bi games but we also had big qualifiers.
“Domestically teams are after you too. But to be eight points clear, doing what they’ve done, has been great.”
Meanwhile, Liam Henderson has moved a step closer to a shock move to Italy after impressing in a trial match with Bari.
He played for the first team in a 4-0 win against a Bari reserve side, with the Italians on their winter break before they resume their campaign against Cesena next week.