THE statistics may not be impressive but the performances have been.
Tony Watt has started two matches recently as a striker for Celtic and the team have scored 10 goals. The 18-year-old striker has scored only one of these, but justifiably has attracted praise rather than criticism. The former Airdrie player has added considerably to his reputation over these two matches if rather sparsely to his tally of goals. He has been central to Celtic's performances against St Mirren and St Johnstone. He has shown a bit of the devil in his confrontation with the combined Saints.
His only reward in terms of goals has been a booming header at St Mirren Park on October 20, but he will be encouraged by the words of his manager in the wake of the 5-0 victory over St Johnstone in the Scottish Communities League Cup quarter-final on Tuesday night.
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The story of the night was Kris Commons, with the Scottish internationalist claiming a hat trick and showing again that he can be strongly influential for Celtic in both scoring and in creating opportunities.
Neil Lennon duly praised Commons but gave an unprompted, generous tribute to Watt who barged, bustled and ran his way in to the match and the attentions of both support and manager.
"That is the sort of team I want to see play every week," said the manager after the match. "I thought Tony Watt had a great game. He gives us that little bit of pace and he stretched St Johnstone."
If Watt did not convert a chance on Tuesday night, he has capitalised on the opportunity afforded by injuries to Lassad Nouioui, Georgios Samaras, and Anthony Stokes.
Lennon conceded that the young striker was playing a more prominent role than the manager envisaged at the start of the season. "He has come to prominence," he said of Watt, who has scored five goals in 10 league appearances. "He is an excellent foil for Gary [Hooper],'' added the manager who said Watt had "excelled" against Inverness Caledonian Thistle , St Mirren and now St Johnstone. "He can be very pleased with his contribution. He still has a long way to go but the kid has a lot of good attributes. I was really pleased with the intensity of his game tonight," said Lennon.
Watt is 6ft, strong and quick and offers Celtic something they have not had for some time. Billy Stark, the Scotland Under-21 coach, has promoted the striker and compared him to John 'Yogi' Hughes.
"He's not the type who would worry about playing against anyone – or be intimidated," said Stark. "When his mind is on it and he's on his game, he can be unstoppable. He has everything in front of him and will want to be the best. He has a gallus streak about him. It's unusual for a Scottish striker to be big and strong, but quick and powerful as well," said Stark when picking Watt.
It is a precise, accurate summation of a young man who almost wandered into the professional game, signing for Airdrie United in 2009 at under-17 level after impressing in a "bounce" match. After only 15 appearances for the Lanarkshire side, he was signed by Celtic for £80,000 and is on contract to the club until January 2014. This contract is likely to be extended with both club and player keen on a new deal.
The recent thinking at Celtic Park has been to reward players with improved contracts with the payback coming in increased satisfaction from the talent and with an extension to the length of the deal. The latter is particularly beneficial when it comes to selling a player on.
Adam Matthews, Charlie Mulgrew and James Forrest have all recently signed such deals and it will be no surprise to see Watt do the same.
A Celtic supporter, he is happy where he is, at least for the moment. He is already being watched by Barclays Premier League clubs with the normal whispers of speculation surrounding him, but he spoke this week of his desire to stay in Scotland, and to improve his game.
It was obvious in the driving rain of Celtic Park on Tuesday that this was a young man with a purpose. His impressive stature allows him to hold the ball up and withstand any buffeting from central defenders. He is also sharp of thought and pace.
Regularly, Watt would surge down a channel, leaving the St Johnstone defence appealing hopelessly for offside. His quickness forces defenders to sit deep, allowing players such as Commons and the enterprising Hooper to exploit the increased space in front of the back four.
His run for the penalty award could almost be described as trademark as Watt has already shown a propensity for unsettling defenders by his sharpness and strength. He darted across the area, picking up a through ball and almost shrugging off Steven Anderson who, in desperation, pulled him down.Commons thrashed in the subsequent penalty as Watt watched. The Lanarkshire lad, though, is destined for a more active role in Celtic's front line.