For six minutes last Tuesday, we might have been a little worried. Sarajevo had made a decent start and our makeshift defence didn’t exactly look the best. Jozo Simunovic giving away a needless corner didn’t help matters, and when Mirko Oremus scored from the resulting corner I’m sure there were more than a few thoughts of us slipping up at the first hurdle.
But actually this game turned out to be less of a problem than it otherwise could have been. Sarajevo played like an SPFL team. They tried to soak up our pressure, they even took their chance when it came to go in front, but ultimately they were undone by our quality. Sarajevo were only ahead for six minutes before Mikey Johnston lashed home the equaliser from outside the box. It flew off his boot so fast I think the goalkeeper only saw it coming back out again.
That away goal so quickly after going behind gave us the confidence to see out the first half on top, and then take the lead early in the second half through Odsonne Edouard. The footwork of the Frenchman matching the awareness of Scott Brown that won the ball back deep in Sarajevo territory.
Winning the match probably would have been enough, but Scott Sinclair coming off the bench to flick home and third goal put a nice icing on the cake and barring some monumental collapse tonight should ensure that we advanced to the second qualifying round where we’ll surprisingly face Nomme Kalju of Estonia. Despite being 1-0 down from the home leg last week, the Estonians levelled the tie against Shkendija early on. The hosts equalised on the night to go back in front on aggregate, but an injury time winner sent the unseeded Estonians through to hopefully visit Celtic Park next week before we join them in Tallinn for the second leg.
For those interested, Nomme Kalju are ranked lower than Sarajevo. But then they’ve already shocked one seed.
Should we fail to win the tie against Sarajevo, and it will take a 3-0 win for the visitors tonight to do that, then we’re actually in the odd position of getting a bye to the third qualifying round of the Europa League. If you fancy two games less to get to the group stages and don’t mind being in the lesser tournament, maybe that’s an option.
Maybe football isn’t for you though.
Sadly Johnston picked up a knock in the first leg that will keep him out of the second leg. The other enforced substitution of last week was that of Boli Bolingoli-Mbombo, however he has since recovered and is available for tonight. Which is good since we’re still a Kieran Tierney light at the moment.
Another new signing, Christopher Jullien, featured for about an hour in Saturday’s goalless friendly against Rennes, but Neil Lennon has admitted he needs more sharpness so who knows whether or not he’ll make his competitive debut. Maybe off the bench after the tie is safe.
Tom Rogic, Marian Shved and Vakoun Issouf Bayo are also all missing for tonight due to injury, while Olivier Ntcham is just back from international duty. The less said about his recent comments the better I think.
The job tonight should be to play our own game and don’t make any silly mistakes that give Sarajevo hope. Do that and we should probably win the game as well as the tie, which is always good for the Scottish coefficient too. Qualifying games don’t affect the club coefficient, but we’d be doing ourselves a favour if we could improve the country one, though obviously we could do with some help on that aspect.
Still, four wins out of four last week for the first time since August 2000 is a pretty good start!
This Celtic team for season 2019/20 is clearly still a work in progress. We’re still trying to strengthen key areas of the team, like the gaping hole at right back for instance, and others are still getting back to match sharpness. But we don’t have long and our schedule is only going to get busier. The sooner we can get players in and get people match sharp, the better our chances of reaching the Champions League group stages and the better our chances of getting our league campaign off to a flying start in a couple of weeks too.
But right now, it’s all about ensuring that we join the one team in Tallinn that are already in the second qualifying round.
Krys (Twitter @krys1888)