The Scottish Mail on Sunday
Taylor is sharpening up his attacking instinct as he bids to be a first choice
GREG TAYLOR was never fooled that a couple of eye-catching seasons at Kilmarnock, a Scotland cap and a £3million move to the champions added up to a ready-made Celtic player. Sure, they were recommendations to go with the raw materials Neil Lennon and his staff were extremely keen to train on and continue Steve Clarke’s fine work.
As for the other ingredients required, they were placed on a slow burn after he signed a four-year deal at Parkhead on September 2.
Taylor was nominated as Celtic’s first-choice left-back by his manager last week, a status that has been five months in the making.
The 22-year-old was laying on assists for Scotland in Euro 2020 qualifiers in November before he completed 90 minutes in the Ladbrokes Premiership for his new club.
When the erratic Boli Bolingoli was taken out or sidelined by injury, Jonny Hayes was preferred to fill in at full-back.
Yet Taylor at no stage felt he was failing or feared that his big break
wasn’t going to work out.
He was simply undergoing a rigorous Lennoxtown learning process to prime him for being let off the leash when Lennon decreed the time was right.
Operating on the essential upgrades and tactical tweaks were assistant manager John Kennedy and first-team coach Damien Duff.
Becoming a Celtic regular, particularly as a wing-back in a 3-5-2 set-up since the winter break, is plenty different to playing in an ultra-disciplined Rugby Park back four for Clarke.
‘Making the adjustments from Kilmarnock to Celtic was probably a process I had to learn,’ admitted the 22-year-old. ‘Building up patterns of play, getting used to having more of the ball.
‘Over the last few months, I’ve been working on that and hopefully that is starting to show and I’m getting more minutes.
‘It was the attacking side of the game I needed to work on more, I hadn’t had as many opportunities to attack at Kilmarnock.
‘At Celtic you’ve got a lot more of the ball, so it’s important. Thankfully, we’re scoring lots of goals.
‘You’re higher up, especially in the 3-5-2. You’re a wing-back. So it’s a shift — but it’s one I am enjoying.
‘I have been doing wee bits here and there with Kendo and Duffer on the pitch. They’ve been really good to help me improve. Two fantastic coaches and it’s good to work with them. Specific stuff, of course, on what I need to do more but you can’t only be working on the attacking side and forget about defending. Because, at the end of the day, I’m a defender as well. It’s just improving all round each day.’
Taylor waited until the midweek visit of St Mirren on October 30 to debut for Lennon and finished his first full league game at Ross County in December.
Yet it’s only since the turn of the year he has come of age in the role, with his manager nominating a sparkling display in the 3-0 win at McDiarmid Park as evidence the penny had dropped.
Taylor said: ‘Everyone wants to be playing but, equally, it’s very rare for someone to walk into a Celtic team.
‘It’s hard getting here. But it’s even harder becoming a regular in the team. So you’ve got to have full belief in yourself. I want to become a Celtic regular and that’s still my aim.
‘There’s competition, of course. Whether it’s Boli, Jonny or myself, everyone is trying to push each other on.
‘It’s nice and encouraging, of course, to be in this position. But at a club this size you’ve got to be doing it week in, week out — otherwise that will change quickly.
‘It’s taken me a few months but hopefully now I can kick on and keep my place.’
Taylor, Bolingoli and Hayes have been in competition since the position was vacated by Arsenal’s £25m man Kieran Tierney.
Any pre-occupation with feeling the need to become a carbon-copy replacement for one of Celtic’s stellar performers over the previous four years would be counterproductive for Taylor.
‘Kieran was and still is a fantastic player,’ confirmed Taylor. ‘He was brilliant here and I’m well aware of that.
‘But I don’t feel added pressure. I am my own person, my own player and I can only do what I can do.’
What Taylor managed to do at international level for his former club boss was deputise when both Tierney and Andy Robertson were missing for Scotland in November.
Clarke’s team took care of business against Cyprus and Kazakhstan, with Taylor setting up goals on both outings for John McGinn and producing performances that belied his lack of first-team exposure with Celtic.
‘I managed to grab a couple of assists, so it was positive,’ he said. ‘I think the gaffer was pleased with me. He knows he can rely on me if and when I am called upon.
‘If I am involved in March, I will go there hoping to play. But I understand my position within the squad. Andy is a top player and one who I’ve learned a lot from.
‘Hopefully, we can get two positive results and get ourselves to the Euros.’
Everyone wants to play but it’s rare to just walk into the Celtic team