Celtic will take a one goal lead and a clean sheet over to St Petersburg next week after a mature and disciplined performance at Celtic Park blew away any doubts that manager Brendan rodgers was incapable of adapting at this level.
The manager planned and prepared perfectly for the visit of the Russians, from the pre match press conference through to the introduction of Charley Musonda to set up the winning goal, and for once, everything went according to that plan.
From back to front, every Celtic player did his bit and more.
Dorus Des Vries showed incredible mental strength to look composed in goal, even pulling off a crucial early save to show the defence what he is capable of.
Kristoffer Ajer, a mixture of Roy Aitken and Paul Elliot at the back teamed up with jozo simunovic, and bonded in a way that decried both players youthfulness, which in turn allowed Mikael Lustig and Keiran tierney to concentrate on their own jobs.
With the steely protection provided by Ntcham, Brown and Kouassi, Zenit had to work hard not just to create chances, but to keep possession.
Calum MacGregor covered all the bits they weren;t, and his finish for the goal was something Moussa Dembele would have been proud of, James Forrest was a marked man but still created problems for the Russians, ably abetted by Demebele, who held the ball, passed the ball and won the ball.
Then came Charley Musonda, eager, quick and intelligent.
He took a clattering almost immediately, but sprang back to his feet and got on with it, and he started the move fpr the goal back in his own half, with a simple pass and move.
And move he did, collecting the ball from Demebele and in one movement looping a pass to MacGregor, and then there was much rejoicing.
Musondas vision, speed and intelligence was epitomised in that one assist.
An outstanding performance which has re-ignited faith in the side, and more importantly, given us back a wee bit of pride.
Alright, when the dust settles, we are only half way there, but we’d all have taken 1-0 before the game, and we’d all happily accept playing anyone anywhere if we could get a goal of a start.
The manager seemed quite pleased about it…
“I thought it was a brilliant performance from start to finish and we limited them to very few opportunities.
“It was a very mature performance from us, tactically in the game we were excellent and we showed our personality and our development as a team to keep a clean sheet and play with that calmness.
“I’m very proud of the team, but we’re only halfway there.
“That level of opponent that we have come up against in the last couple of years tests you to the limit, but I think it’s important you defend well in any game.
“Whether it’s a Scottish Premiership game or a Europa League or Champions League game, but I thought defensively we were very strong.
“They were very clear in their role and how they worked it and we showed a great calmness with the ball. Everyone contributed.
“I said to the players yesterday that between 60 and 70 minutes we would need to change it because the shape we were playing was going to be taxing on some of the players.
“Charly Musonda is a dribbler, you can see with the goal he can stay on the ball and took us out of pressure.
“He was very good when he came on, but it was very much a team performance and a great result for us.
“It was going to be two difficult games, but we’ve given ourselves a wonderful opportunity.
“We defended very very well, we took our opportunity and it sets it up very well for next week.”
Rodgers , of course, is too modest to trumpoet his own part in the win, so we’ll defer to former Celtic boss Neil Lennon, who knows a thing or two about winning against the odds in Europe..
“He got the tactics bang on, he got the personnel bang on, he got the substitutions spot on.
This being our first game back there was a bit of pressure on the lads, so I thought we answered it brilliantly with the way we pressed the game and the way we played.
“We knew they were just off the back of a break and sometimes teams coming here can be really uncomfortable in the first 20 minutes.
“We set the tempo with that, by getting up and pressing and when we had the ball we played really well. We grew in confidence, they started to tire a little bit and we got the goal, so it was a prefect game plan for us.
“Going into next week we are confident, we know we can play against them and we are confident of getting the result.
While everyone will be talking about that pass, and that goal, there was much more to that performance than , er, that.
It showed Celtic have learned, it showed that will keep learning and for all the fears about last nights game, largely in the eyes of the media, it has to be said, Rodgers just played along with it, Celtic have a squad capable of competing with anyone.
We just have to keep reminding them.
Elsewhere, oh sod elsewhere, Celtic is where its at.
Which is why Alex McLeish will be snuck in to the Scotland managers job today, with alex Rae as his number two and Peter Grant in there to appease Celtic fans.
But we don’t need appeasing, we don’t give a toss any more.
Celtic is where its at.
It’s also why the papers are reporting another huge bid for Alfredo Morellos, which should assure the hordes of darkness that everything is tickety boo and any talk of payday loans is merely a figment of Timmy’s imagination, which is where he goes to hide from the very real fear of 55, a number which seems to obsess the gullibillies.
For whatever reason.
Largely because they know that Celtic is where its at.
Knob of the Week is postponed until the morning, because i’m in such a good mood I don’t want to talk about , er, knobs.