Celtic team to play Alloa: Stick or twist, plastic pitch protections, Matt O'Riley debut, Reo Hatate, preparing for international absences

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A cup tie against a struggling League One team might appear a straightforward assignment for Celtic. Yet, there are no end of questions for Ange Postecoglou – taking charge of his first game in the tournament – about how he should tackle the tea-time trip to Alloa on Saturday …

Celtic team to play Alloa: Stick or twist, plastic pitch protections, Matt O’Riley debut, Reo Hatate, preparing for international absences
© Will Celtic manager Ange Postecoglou follow previous form and throw in Thursday signing Matt O’Rile…

Stick or twist

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Celtic team to play Alloa: Stick or twist, plastic pitch protections, Matt O’Riley debut, Reo Hatate, preparing for international absences
© Christopher Jullien is closing in on a return.

The Scottish Cup fourth round clash has the potential to be Celtic’s second of a monstrous 18 games inside eight weeks. With the opponent appearing far from the most exacting, it could appear a perfect day to rest senior players … except, Postecoglou is seeking to get his January window retooled squad into a rhythm and integrate fully new players. For all that in the midweek win over Hibs man of the match Reo Hatate and goalscorer Daizen Maeda hit their straps immediately, they are still feeling their way with their new squad.

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Celtic team to play Alloa: Stick or twist, plastic pitch protections, Matt O’Riley debut, Reo Hatate, preparing for international absences
© Reo Hatate during a Celtic training session.

It would seem too early in a onerous sequence of fixtures to change too much about the starting XI from the victory on Wednesday then. Though, there is one complication…

The unloved Alloa artificial surface

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The lower league nature of the opposition could suggest the tie is an ideal opportunity for the Celtic manager to give required minutes to players recently sidelined with injury, that producing the knock-on benefit of offering rest to others. But on the plastic at Alloa do you really want to risk such as James Forrest and Jota, after the pair in midweek enjoyed their first run-outs for more than a month? Moreover, though Postecoglou has spoken of reintroducing Christopher Jullien following the big defender’s year on the sidelines before the end of the month, and the nature of the cup encounter would have made it seem a suitable time to do so if it were a home tie, it doesn’t feel that extends to the staging of the game at the Indodrill Stadium. Hamstring strains were a vexing issue for Postecoglou across the first half of the season. No-one, fair or otherwise, has ever believed the prospects of picking these up aren’t increased on artificial pitches.

Matt O’Riley

Postecoglou has form for throwing new signings straight into his Celtic side. He may be tempted to make this weeks £1.5million capture from MK Dons Matt O’Riley the latest beneficiary of such an approach. Tom Rogic’s call-up for Australia ensures he will be rendered unavailable to Celtic for the three league games to follow the Alloa jaunt – Hearts away next Wednesday, Dundee United at home three days later, and the hugely important hosting of Rangers on February 2. Attacking midfielder O’Riley has been presented as a Rogic-a-like. Getting him up to speed before he may be required to deputise for Celtic’s playmaking sorcerer could make perfect sense. Not least because both other such regular David Turnbull is out until March and the new man for one of these two roles in Celtic’s set-up, Hatate, could be included in the Japanese squad for World Cup qualifiers in the coming fortnight that it is expected will be named on Saturday afternoon.

That squad seems liable to include Maeda, with the possibility Cameron Carter-Vickers, two years on from his last cap, could feature in the US squad for their World Cup qualifiers over the next fortnight. On-loan Tottenham Hotspur centre-back Carter-Vickers, with recent European level exposure, is operating at a level – and to a standard – that must place him in the frame for his national team. If he is called-up along with Rogic and Maeda and even perhaps Hatate (which seems slightly more of an outside possibility) then Celtic would have a strong case for asking for postponements for their next three league games. Whether they would seek this course of action, it is hard to divine. An issue for another day …

Predicted Celtic team: Hart; Ralston, Welsh, Starfelt, Scales; McGregor, Hatate, O’Riley; Abada, Giakoumakis, Maeda.

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