Eighteen league matches into the thirty-four fixture season and Celtic B are fifth in the Scottish Lowland Football League with games in hand over every team above them.

Results for the Colts up to this midway point have been impressive with the side even unfortunate not to have defeated senior SPFL opposition Clyde FC in the Glasgow Cup opener last week. Excitingly, there are clear signs of Ange Postecoglou’s first-team style of play being implemented at this level and many of the young Bhoys could develop into stars.
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Saturday’s 3-2 victory in the Lowland League away to Caledonian Braves puts Celtic B sixteen points behind runaway division leaders Bonnyrigg Rose Athletic having played two fewer matches. Under the current rules Celtic B are only participating in the SLFL for the 2021/22 season and cannot win promotion but they can certainly push for, at least, second place. The team has an intense schedule of matches in December which leads up to the derby match against Rangers B on New Year’s Day and is followed by a clash with Bonnyrigg Rose at the end of January.

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This high scoring win against the Braves may be some evidence that the Hoops have overcome a slightly fallow period in front of goal. Since a 10-0 victory over winless, bottom-of-the-table Vale of Leithen in mid-August, Celtic B hadn’t scored more than twice in a match until the league game preceding this one, a 4-2 win over Broomhill FC in mid-November. In fact, in the eleven SLFL matches during that stretch, they scored just once on four occasions and failed to score at all in two of the fixtures.

The Colts have let in just fifteen goals in eighteen league games which, albeit they have played a couple of games less than some others, is the fewest any team has conceded in the SLFL.

However, they have conceded two goals in four of their last five matches in the division which amounts to half of the total they’ve let in for the season so far. The loss of players to national team setups during the international break has likely been a factor in this but it seems that B team manager Tommy McIntyre has also been adjusting the side’s short blanket as Postecoglou did at senior level.

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Celtic B are also participating in the Glasgow Cup, which started in the 1887/88 season and was contested by senior clubs from the Glasgow area, with Cambuslang Rangers winning the inaugural tournament.

It was once seen as an important competition in the Scottish football calendar but faded in value after the Second World War due to the creation of the Scottish League Cup and the start of European club competitions.

Celtic won the trophy twenty-nine times before it was relaunched as a youth tournament in 1990. In 2019/20 and 2020/21 the tournament did not conclude due to the Covid-19 pandemic and therefore Celtic are the current holders due to their success in 2018/19 when it was an under-20 competition for all participants.

The format changed again for the 2019/20 season, with Celtic and Rangers permitted to field under-21s, alongside two over age players, and Clyde, Partick Thistle and Queen’s Park allowed to use players of any age. Indeed, in August 2019, Clyde’s manager Danny Lennon subbed himself on during the match against Celtic B, at the age of 50 and over a decade after he had retired as a player.

This season Clyde, Partick Thistle, Queen’s Park, Rangers B and Celtic B will play each other once in a round-robin format, with the top four teams in the league table proceeding to the semi-final stage, followed by a final at the end of the season.

Celtic B dominated much of their opening match against Clyde but failed to add to their solitary goal and were cruelly denied victory in the ninetieth minute by a dreadful refereeing error. Conor Hazard was sent off and a penalty awarded for Clyde, which they scored, despite any foul clearly occurring outside the penalty box.

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However, the fixture did demonstrate Celtic B will continue to stick to their footballing principles even against SPFL opposition. At the start of the season Celtic B used a 4-2-3-1 formation but against Clyde and Caledonian Braves the team had a clear 4-3-3 shape, similar to that of Postecoglou’s first team. In possession, the centre backs keep a high line, one of the full-backs often inverts, the middle of the pitch features a single pivot behind two advanced midfielders or 8/10s who play in the half-spaces and the wingers stay very high and wide.

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Often the 8/10s, 19-year-old Ben Wylie and 17-year-old Tsoanelo Letsosa in both of these matches, will remain on the same vertical line but alternate between dropping deep to receive the ball or pushing up to join the front three and overload the opposition backline. At other points, they will float wide and combine with the winger on their flank to stretch and manipulate the defence.

Letsosa is a particularly special prospect with an intriguing mix of attributes. He finds pockets of space easily, can turn opponents well and has an electric change of pace. On top of that he has a deceptively powerful leap, reminiscent of Henrik Larsson. Against the Braves he got the wonder goal which his play has been threatening to deliver all season - receiving the ball on the half-turn in space and driving through the centre of the pitch, sizing up passing options before smashing a powerful, curling strike high into the far corner of the net.

He’s also part of a strong press that Celtic B applies to opponents and, importantly, a feature of their own attempts to evade the opposition press. The Colts are keen to move the ball quickly, rarely delaying at goal kicks, and always build through calm and brave passing from the back. Sometimes, possession dominant teams can be led into a U shape of passes as they funnel the ball from one flank backwards to full back and then centre backs and then the full-back on the other side and then back again, as they probe for an opening. A feature of Celtic B’s game is that they will tempt the opposition to press and then, as the ball makes its way inwards along the backline from the left-back, the right-sided central defender will fake a pass to the right-back but instead play forward and through the lines to Letsosa in the right half-space.

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Another option for the central defenders and goalkeeper in build-up is to pass to the deepest midfielder, or single pivot, Kenzie Carse. 17-year-old Carse is always available to receive the ball, has excellent close control and a good repertoire of passes from short-range link up to long switches of play. He had a superb match against Caledonian Braves, significantly responsible for helping his side bypass the press in the first half with both fullbacks playing more conservatively than normal and not inverting in possession as they might against less aggressive opposition. Carse was also often first to loose balls and sharp to shut down counter-attacks. The similarity to the role that Postecoglou had Callum McGregor play up until Tom Rogic’s injury and Nir Bitton’s introduction to midfield in the first team was clear.

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As an attacking weapon, in addition to the positional rotation of the midfielders such as Letsosa, line breaking passing from either a central defender or Carse and attempts to isolate one of the wingers one on one with their opposing fullback, Celtic B also sometimes mirror the ball carrying of Kris Ajer or, latterly, Cameron Carter-Vickers.

17-year-old Dylan Corr may be less well known at this point than fellow centre backs Dane Murray or Bosun Lawal, but he performed excellently in terms of defensive fundamentals against Clyde and, in the SLFL match against Broomhill FC, set up the opener after dribbling into the final third and finding one of the five players with which the Hoops had overloaded the opposition backline. Corr, returning to action after a spell out with injury, fully merits a start in this Saturday’s match against Edinburgh University given his modern central defender skill set.

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Finally, although more muted against the Braves the B team have started to utilise inverted fullbacks in a relatively similar manner to the first team and have an impressive clutch of players developing in those positions.

B team captain Brody Paterson is 20 and has already spent time on loan at Queen’s Park and is a consistent and dependable left-back, also capable of playing in central defence as he did against Caledonian Braves. In that match Matthew Anderson, a 17-year-old with excellent speed of thought, well-weighted and placed passes and clear skill at staying on his feet and blocking crosses, started at left-back. He’s a highly regarded prospect for a position that remains unsatisfactorily filled at senior level since Kieran Tierney’s departure. Ewan Otoo, a 19-year-old with an impressive spell of SPFL game time on loan at Clyde under his belt, is also an option in that area of the pitch for the Colts.

On the other side Joseph Murphy, just 16 years old, started against both Clyde and the Braves and is composed and assured on the ball with the skill to invert boosted by the fact that he played in central midfield earlier in the season. Competition for the right-back spot is provided by Benny-Jackson Luyeye, a very exciting 16-year-old who was part of Scotland under-17s’ recent progress to the Elite round of European Championships qualification and is capable of both coming in field on the ball or overlapping to great effect.

Ange-Ball isn’t being applied in a prescriptive or dogmatic manner throughout the club but certainly many of the principles used by the first team are being implemented by McIntyre’s team and with good outcomes; Celtic B are delivering fine results, performing well in matches and individual players are clearly developing.