Apart from a mad 11 minute spell in Kazakhstan yesterday afternoon, Celtic’s season has more or less gone according to plan.
We’re unbeaten in domestic competition, winning three league matches out of three, took care of Kilmarnock with a young second string in the BetFred Cup a fortnight ago and more importantly, progressed through SIX qualifying matches in the Champions League.
To date, we’ve scored 27 goals and conceded 5 in the ten competitive games we’ve played, all without our recognised defensive pairing of Jozo Simunovic and Dedryck Boyata, the latter has been injured before a ball was kicked in earnest.
Throw into the mix the games where Brendan has had to field a team without a recognised striker too, as both Leigh Griffiths and Moussa Dembele have had spells on the treatment table, then I’d say we’ve done exceptionally well to be in Thursday’s Champions League Group draw.
We’ve also scored an incredible 15 goals in Europe, only conceding 4 in that crazy spell in Central Asia yesterday. All in all, Celtic and the support can look forward to European football at least until Christmas, and with a kitty of £30M plus to sweeten the deal, maybe a couple of new faces.
If any of the new recruits fare as well as Olivier Ntcham, then we’re all in for a treat. What a find he’s been already…
Celtic for long enough had a European record that was a hacks dream. Despite our many successes at Celtic Park, we always seemed to fall short on our travels, much to the delight of the SMSM.
It gave them a stick to beat us with, and boy did they use it.
However, since our thrashing at the hands of Barcelona last season, a 7-0 defeat that more established sides have suffered, Brendan Rodgers has put a belief into the side that gives us all the confidence in the world when we play away on European soil.
A credible 1-1 draw at the Borussia-Park against Borussia Monchengladbach followed, a game we could have won, then in our last trip in the group of death, we secured another 1-1 draw against money bags Manchester City, with loanee Patrick Roberts scoring the Celtic goal.
Since then, we’ve travelled to Belfast and Trondheim in this years qualifiers and have yet to concede, even though our defence on both occasions wasn’t at full strength.
As we head into today’s Champions League play-off second leg against Astana, we’ve never been better placed to face an away tie. Not only are we five goals to the good, but we’re playing with a confidence rarely seen by a Celtic team on their travels.
Personally, I don’t fear us going away in Europe anymore, sure we will lose some games, but the trepidation that was the norm is no longer there. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Celtic win in Kazakhstan this afternoon…
Celtic will play the second leg of the Champions League play-offs in Kazakhstan tomorrow in what can be described as a ‘hostile’ stadium.
The Bhoys will know what to expect having played at the same venue last season, and came away from Central Asia with a credible 1-1, setting us up nicely for the second leg which we won 2-1.
However, at 4.30 GMT tomorrow, the Hoops will kick-off with what should be an unsalable five goal lead courtesy of a fantastic performance from Brendan’s Bhoys at Celtic Park last Wednesday night.
Of course the manager will not be resting on his laurels, and will set his team out to win the game and continue our fabulous unbeaten 57 game run.
It wouldn’t be a surprise if Celtic return to Glasgow with another win under our belt, or at worst, a draw to keep intact our success record.
One thing’s for sure, the Astana crowd might be hostile, but I doubt we’ll see any Buckie bottles getting lobbed towards any of our players…
At the start of the year, Celtic won a couple of games against Aberdeen and St Johnstone at Celtic Park and were accused of being in the middle of a slump by the naysayers in the SMSM.
The fact we won both games and the were in the throws of an unbeaten run wasn’t good enough for some.
Using the same logic, Celtic’s 2-0 victory, our 57th match unbeaten in all competitions since the 23rd of November, would mean the slump continues…..
However, Brendan Rodgers doesn’t see it that way. He took the opportunity to play his young charges at Kilmarnock again today, fielding the same back four as he did a week past at Celtic Park in the Betfred Cup against the same opposition.
A back four with the oldest player Kieran Tierney at 20 years old. Although the way all four played, you’d never think they were so young.
Young personnel aside, Celtic controlled the game from start to finish, scoring a goal in each half, both with assists from Scottish Cup hero, Tom Rogic, James Forrest side footing the first on 39 minutes and Callum McGregor poking the second past Jamie McDonald with three minutes of the game to go.
The game also produced another clean sheet for Celtic, our eighth out of nine games in all competitions, with Hearts being the only team to score against us in the opening league game in the season.
Not bad for a defence that attracts so much negative media. I’m sure the BBC Sportscene pundits pinpointed Nir Bitton as a ‘weak link’ last Sunday. He then went on to play a pivotal role in our 5-0 demolition of FC Astana.
Just shows how much they know….
The news that midfielder Stuart Armstrong has signed a two year extension to his contract has been met largely with a ‘so what’ response by the Celtic support.
His stalling over putting pen to paper, left the fans with a ‘if he does, fine, if he doesn’t so what’ attitude, which has been as a result of the performances of Callum McGregor and new Bhoy Olivier Ntcham.
Stuart is an intelligent guy, he has a law degree after all, but sometimes being academically smart doesn’t always mean you’re blessed with common sense.
Now, I’m not having a go at the Bhoy, it’s his prerogative if he wants to sign, but in all honestly, the last six months have been his best in a Celtic jersey. This may well be down to the influence of Brendan Rodgers and the way the team have been playing, but prior to those six months, he was quite ordinary.
And in all fairness to the Bhoy he has scored some really important goals, none more so than the equaliser in the Scottish Cup Final.
On the downside for Stuart, while he’s been mulling over his new deal, the players mentioned above have really stepped up to the plate, so much so when Armstrong did get on the pitch, he was very ordinary. It was obvious his mind was elsewhere.
By signing the two year extension, he’s kept his options open, as have the club. It’s now up to him to win a permanent place in the team and gain some of the lost respect from the support who were being him when things weren’t so good for him.
Who knows, he might just turn into the player he thinks he is…..
When you look at the managers notes in last night’s match programme, he basically told us what was needed to take to Kazakhstan for the second leg….a strong lead.
Now, Brendan didn’t specify how many goals that would entail, but I’ll guess he’ll be more than satisfied with the five goal advantage we have for Tuesday’s second leg in Central Asia.
What looked like a tricky tie became a breeze for the Hoops as they went about their business in a confident and composed way, giving very little encouragement to the visitors.
Brendan went with nearly the same side that defeated Partick Thistle last Friday, Hayes and McGregor making way for Rogic and Griffiths. That meant Celtic had the much needed striker as a focal point, something that’s sorely missed without Leigh or Moussa.
It also meant Nir Bitton kept his place in the back four, much to the surprise of many. After the mauling he took in the media, it would be hard to imagine the midfielder turned defender, has only played 180 competitive minutes there, in a team that’s lost just ONE goal all season!
Celtic, and Brendan of course, don’t listen to the naysayers, and just go about our business of winning football matches, something we’re incredibly good at. We must be, considering we haven’t lost a competitive game in Scotland or Europe since November 23rd last year. A total of 56 matches. Unbelievable.
Anyway, back to last night’s demolition of Astana.
Celtic started the game well enough and had a couple of early chances to take the lead, Scott Sinclair snatching at a loose ball in the box and Leigh Griffiths heading a James Forrest cross wide, when you’d expect him to hit the target.
Astana to their credit made life difficult for in the first half hour, and had a good chance of their own before Tom Rogic pounced on a Mikel Lustig through ball, carried it into the Astana box, chipping the ball goalwards, only for their defender Postnikov knocked it over the line to give Celtic a 1-0 lead.
Until then, Rogic was almost anonymous but found a spring in his step thereafter. Just goes to show how dangerous he can be when he burst into the box.
With the interval looming, Celtic once again took advantage of poor defending, this time Scott SInclair latching onto a loose Astana pass inside the visitors half, sprinting forward, and smashing the ball into the bottom corner to give the Bhoys a two goal cushion.
If we thought 2-0 was a good scoreline, the second half surpassed even our expectations!
Further goals from Sinclair, after the referee correctly waved play on following a clash of heads between Rogic and Astana’s Logvinenko, Forrest, following a great ball from man of the match Olivier Ntcham to Leigh Griffiths, who coolly slipped James in to beat the keeper, and a deflected effort from Leigh himself, rounded off the scoring to read an emphatic, Celtic 5 Astana 0.
The game, the occasion, with the Green Brigade back in full voice, and of course the result, all made for one of those magical European nights only Celtic Park can host.
I think it’s fair to say the name of Celtic will be in the draw for the Champions League group stages, along with the £30m plus prize that goals long with it…