Avoid the Greek Tragedy

So…. Hearts then. Oh we’ve played that game. Sorry.

Okay, so I thought we were playing on Sunday when actually we were playing on Saturday and as such my well planned blog never materialised. I say well planned, actually I was going to focus on the fact that last season we didn’t particularly fare well in the capital with just one win but two defeats to our name. Maybe we’d want to do better this season, starting with a win at Tynecastle.

So much for that plan. That went as well as my blog did.

It’s been probably the toughest week in the little over two years that Brendan Rodgers has been in charge at Celtic. We’ve had dirty linen aired in public around the lack of activity in getting transfers over the line. We’ve had our first league defeat of the season in only our second league game of the season. We’ve had Dedryck Boyata apparently go out with a back injury that will ensure he’s not cup tied in Europe. Convenient.

But right now the focus is on our trip to Athens. The first leg was the other thing that didn’t exactly go according to plan last week. Despite a bright start and an early Callum McGregor goal, we managed to shoot ourselves in the foot at the end of the first half by conceding a goal in what was pretty much AEK’s only shot at goal.

There’s a bit of a theme there actually. Rosenborg, Livingston and AEK all have approximately one shot on goal all game and got a goal from it. Our defence is not exactly covering itself in glory.

There are mitigating circumstances. Kristoffer Ajer and Jack Hendry are hardly what you would call experienced at this level. Dedryck Boyata is unfit, in whatever way you choose to interpret that. Jozo Simunovic is just back from suspension. Mikael Lustig can play centre back but can also play right back when he’s not just trying to get back from holiday after the World Cup himself.

And then there’s Marvin Compper. At least I think there’s Marvin Compper, I’m not entirely sure if he exists and I actually was at the one game he played. Better off with Compper the Meerkat at this point I think. Simples.

Ajer’s suspension for this second leg doesn’t make things any easier, but with a 1-1 scoreline from the home leg maybe it’s not the defence that’s the problem. We need to score over there, regardless of whether AEK score or not. If they don’t score but neither do we, then we’re out. If they score we still only need one goal to at least get to extra time. Them scoring is only a setback in this scenario.

The trouble is, the 1-1 scoreline from the first leg is not one that tends to get turned in our favour. Of the 27 times it’s happened for Scottish teams in the past, only six of those resulted in the Scottish team going through. Aberdeen went out to Burnley from this position, although they did get to extra time in that scenario I’ve just described. Burnley scored first!

What does go in our favour though is that of those six Scottish victories, two of them are remembered very fondly by many of us as they both took place on the road to Seville.

The Liverpool quarter final saw Henrik Larsson mark his return almost immediately with a very early opening goal, only for Emilie Heskey to level the tie and get that crucial away goal. But down at Anfield, Celtic would play out one of the all time great European victories as Alan Thompson and John Hartson got the goals in a 2-0 victory that sent us through to the semi final.

Where we had to do it all again against Boavista!

This time, a Joos Valgaeren own goal gave Boavista the lead before Larsson levelled the game. He could have had another from the penalty spot but uncharacteristically missed that chance and we went to Portugal knowing we had to score. What followed was Boavista boarding up their goal and time wasting throughout the match, right up until Larsson gave us the lead with less than ten minutes to go.

We’ve all seen that goal a thousand times, right?

Suddenly it was like the ball boys had woken up and things couldn’t be done quick enough. Thankfully we saw it out and a mad panic to get tickets for the final in Seville began.

Well, unless you’d bought them in the public sale while still playing Liverpool of course. Best gamble I ever made.

AEK Athens haven’t lost at home in Europe since… well, this round of Champions League qualifying last season actually. CSKA Moscow won 2-0 in Athens and 1-0 in Moscow to progress 3-0 on aggregate. Since then, AEK beat Club Brugge 3-0 in the Europa League playoff round, then drew with AC Milan, Austria Vienna and Rijeka in the group stages whilst also drawing with Dynamo Kiev in the last thirty two.

It’s worth noting though that both Austria Vienna and Rijeka got 2-2 draws, which would suit us tonight. Kiev had a 1-1 draw too, and with a 0-0 draw at home it was enough for them to progress at AEK’s expense. Only the 0-0 draw that Milan had would knock us out.

So for all AEK defended well last week to keep us out, we still have hope. We did score early on, and doing that again tonight may well change the whole complexion of the tie. Then again, maybe we’d prefer it if they held out for 0-0 for 93 minutes, only to concede a 94th minute goal off Craig Gordon’s left bumcheek.

It could happen.

I’m not sure my heart could take that kind of thing though. I’d much rather Celtic regained some professionalism that’s been badly missing this past week or so. A clean, well drilled performance with lots of chances created and several taken would be most welcome. Nothing silly at the back, and we can look forward to seeing how Vidi and Malmo got on at the same time as our match takes place.

Because otherwise we’re tuning in to Suduva and Spartaks Jurmala on Thursday night to see who our Europa League playoff opponents will be. That’s the part of the Road to Seville I’d rather not be repeating thanks very much.

And somehow I also suspect that if that’s our destination then we might see some transfer activity finally if that happens… but not the direction we’re hoping.

Krys (Twitter @krys1888)

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