Well, that’ll put a stop to us farting in the chapel.
What seemed to be a fairly comfortable cruise towards the play off round in this seasons champions league all turned a bit anxious when Brendan Rodgers brought Kolo toure into the fray. although it wasn’t really a fray. everything was going to plan at that point.
Celtic were one up after Leigh Griffiths converted a penalty following a scything kick from the Emilio Izaguirre book of Honduran defending on Keiran Tierney. Yeah, read that again-Leigh Griffiths converted a penalty..so you kind of know its going to be your night…and as it came just before half time, you could see that Astana were losong their discipline a wee bit.
The first half performance was nothing special, but it didn’t need to be. The longer the game went on, the more Celtic kept control, the more Astana would get fed up. and thats what happened.
O’Connell and Lustig were playing like they’d been together for years, the full backs were taking it in turns to bomb down the flanks, and there was no evidence to suggest that this was the first time these four had played together.
In the middle, Scott Brown had obviously read his managers words of praise before he came out of the dressing room, and he was more like his old self, ably supported by Stefan Johansen when he came on-Patrick Roberts was an early injury-and the industrious Calum MacGregor /Stuart Armstrong axis.
James Forrest drove at the Khazaks when he could, wothout forgetting to track back when it was needed, and Griffiths was just Griffiths. Not in itself a bad thing at all.
Onto the second half, and it looked like more of the same. An early chnace went begging when Griffiths stormed down the left, but you knew he’d get another. He did, he misssed that one as well, but thats not the point.
The point is there was no need to bring on an extra defender just because you’d told him you would.
Within minutes, a long ball at the heart of a restructured defence, caused mayhem as Lustig, Toure and O’Connell were staring at each other, and Craig Gordon galloped out to nullify the threat with a powerful header, which unhappily went straight to an Astana player who promptly hit it goalwards, where he found his target.
Suddenly, Astana who had looked like they were fed up of the whole trip to Glasgow thing came alive. They found space where there had been none, and hope where there had been even less.
At this point, one Astana goal, whether or not Celtic scored next, would be enough to take them through. And Celtic didn’t really look like they were going to score. James Forrest had been substituted, Saidy Janko and Keiran Tierney were looking a little tired, and there didn’t seem to be any real support for Leigh Griffiths.
Fortunately, Rodgers , having made an arse of the first unenforced change, rectified it when he added Moussa Dembele to the fray in place of Forrest, many of us okay , me, thought he was going to bring on another defender , or a ball boy or something, but he thought better of it, and Dembeles enthusiasm led to a second penalty, in added time, which meant that we wouldn’t endure the torture of further added time and probably penalties.
Dembele showed courage to take the kick himself, in what will surely turn out to be a Celtic career defining moment, which was just as well, because Griffiths would not have scored a second penalty, if you consider his statistics from the spot.
As Brendan explained later..
“Moussa is our No.1 penalty taker but he wasn’t on when the first one went in. Leigh also got a bad knock but he was a warrior to carry on and he will have a really swollen ankle in the morning.
“Both penalty takers showed wonderful composure. I was pleased for both of them, but especially Moussa for his first goal.”
Manager Rodgers seemed happy enough with the nights work, although I’ll wager he sank a cold one or two after the game;
“That was a difficult test for us and everyone felt we would do well to get through this one.
“We showed different elements of our game and deserved to go through.
“It certainly gives the players great belief and hopefully the supporters belief. Hopefully, they see the players are giving
“They were unbelievable for us but they need to show a bit of patience as well.
“I’m a Celtic supporter myself, I know what they want, I know how desperately they want it, but they put the players on edge at times tonight.
“In modern European football, teams are organised. If you can’t go forward and you can’t play sidewards, you have to come back.
“But when you come back, we shouldn’t be on edge because we are going back as we have to circulate the ball to get out the other side to try to provoke them to be disorganised and try to score a goal.
“Hopefully, going forward, instead of having that edginess, trust the players, trust our game model and how we work. As you saw, eventually we can get there.
Then he remembered that some of us might be listening…
“But it was a wonderful atmosphere, a brilliant support, and they helped push us over the line.”
Like many others, I watched the game on Celtic TV, where the crowd was somewhat muted and the microphones turned up so the commentators could be heard.
Boy, can they talk. all the way through. Lads, its television. we can see whats happening. Its radio where dead air is a crime. The job of a television commentator is to identify players, maybe give an opinion or two and to tell the viewer of anything going on they cannot se on the screen.
As its a club channel, a wee bit of emotion wouldn’t be a bad thing, and theres no harm in a bit of criticism here and there, but to have a go at Johansen, six minutes after he came on for not getting into the game enough was a bit harsh.
Sometimes , less is more, and in television commentary, less is always more.
so, after all that, how do we feel ?
Relief more than joy, but it has to be stressed that at this stage of the season, with the importance of these games, we shouldn’t care how we do it, we shouldn’t care if we deserved to do it-in this case we did-all that matters is that we do it.
There is the makings of a good side in there, one that will get beyond christmas in Europe this season, and I’m just glad that this particular stage is behind us.
In the next round, which will be just as , er, exciting, Celtic will face one of five teams, one of which is not Legia Warsaw, much to the relief of most supporters and NATO’s peacekeeping forces.
It will be either Dinamo Zagreb, Ludogorets, FC Copenhagen, Hapoel Beer Sheva, or Dundalk.
If Legia would have sent a shiver down your spine, spare a thought for those of us who endured a clash with dundalk back in 1979.
followed by the second leg…which makes last nights game look like a stroll in the park.
It might be worth noting who Celtics man of the match was in the return, to give you an idea of why I won’t be the only one dreading a rematch.
It’s also worth noting that Celtic had four centre halves in that line up, although they weren’t used in that way. well, not initially , at least.
After the game, manager Billy mcNeill was asked why he started with four central defenders.
” I didn’t have any more ”
Logistically, Dundalk would be a perfect draw. To progress in the tournament, it would be far and away the worse possible outcome. They would all grow about six inches in height and fifty percent in morale should that happen. Despite what their manager, Stephen Kenny said;
“In relation to getting Celtic or anything like that, we’re not really interested in some kind of glamour draw.
“I’m not interested in getting a ‘name’ just to be part of some occasion.
“We’re going to be part of plenty of occasions anyway because we’ve got a minimum eight European games regardless.
He’s not fooling anyone.
Celtic wouldn’t enjoy the “occasion”
I certainly wouldn’t.
In other news, ach, what other news?
We’re into the play offs, something that we weren’t supposed to do. Weren’t Astana supposed to be a great side who would sort us out ?
Turns out we aren’t so bad ourselves.
winner yesterday, with a little bit of thinking outside the box…