Peter the Great, Celtic the Better

Last Thursday we saw some of the best of Celtic.

In a game many, myself included, wondered if we’d be in for another disappointment the entire team showed what can happen when they play to the best of their ability.

Yes, we probably should have scored more than we did. That may yet come back to haunt us in this second leg. But it wasn’t down to a lack of effort or disappointing build up play. It really was just down to the ball not quite falling as we would hope at times and possibly the odd bit of poor individual decision making.

The passing was crisp and accurate. There was no real panic when Zenit had the ball and even created their own chances. We defended well, limited those chances and dealt with the chances they did get. We may have only scored the one wonderful goal but it could be the clean sheet that matters even more.

After all, this was Celtic’s first knockout round victory in Europe proper since Alan Thompson’s solitary goal was enough to knock out Barcelona in 2003/04. It was enough that season!

Since then we’ve faced AC Milan, Barcelona, Juventus and Inter Milan in knockout matches and while there are a couple of draws in there it’s mainly defeats. As I said last week, including group matches as well that was our first home win since Astra in 2014.

Now we need to try and finish the job, in the city founded by Tsar Peter the Great. It was briefly named after him a century ago as Petrograd, while I’m sure many remember it being called Leningrad. But these days the historical capital of Russia has its original name once more, and it’s where Celtic have now travelled with a 1-0 lead.

An away goal could definitely be really useful as we’re up against the top scorers from the Europa League group stages. I’m not sure I’d really expect us to get another clean sheet in the second leg.

Mind you, our record against Russian teams is remarkably good. Indeed we’re actually undefeated on Russian soil! Continue that record tonight and we’ll be in the last sixteen.

It’s our first visit to St Petersburg, as our three other visits to Russia all saw us travel to Moscow.

The first of those was in 2007/08 when a Paul Hartley away goal opener was cancelled out by Spartan Moscow’s Roman Pavlyuchenko just before half time. Scott Brown passed up a golden opportunity for the away win right at the end, and that ultimately meant the tie went all the way to penalties at Celtic Park where Artur Boruc got to be the hero for Gordon Strachan’s Celtic in our first and to date only European penalty shootout success.

Three years later, Tony Mowbray’s men were 1-0 down after the home leg of the tie against Dinamo Moscow, but a late first half goal from Scott McDonald in the away leg brought us back into the tie before an injury time winner from Georgios Samaras ensured Celtic progressed to face Arsenal in the playoff round of the Champions League rather than play extra time in Moscow.

A late Samaras winner in Moscow? Which one?!

The 2012/13 season saw Neil Lennon’s Celtic finally get that elusive Champions League group stage away win. It started well with a Gary Hooper opener, before Spartak Moscow turned things around thanks to two taps ins from Emmanuel Emenike either side of half time. The sending off of Juan Insaurralde for the home side certainly gave Celtic hope of getting something from the game and the equaliser soon came through James Forrest – although it was technically an own goal.

And then of course just as it seemed like the draw would have to do, up popped Sammy to score the late winner and set us on our way to a Scottish record ten points in the group stages – rounded off of course with a 2-1 win at home over Spartak.

No Samaras this time out of course, but we still have players who can score over there. Callum McGregor already has the goal in this tie and is more than capable of serving up another. Moussa Dembele did everything but score in the first leg and could remedy that in the second leg to add to the goal he got early on in Paris.

James Forrest already has a vital away goal in Europe this season from the trip to Trondheim, while Scott Sinclair is still our top scorer and that includes getting on the scoresheet away to Anderlecht.

Unfortunately the other scorers that night were Leigh Griffiths and Patrick Roberts, neither of whom are available for this match.

A Celtic goal in this leg and Zenit would then need to score three. A week more into their return from their winter break may make them capable of doing just that, so as much as scoring could be important it’s still down to our defence to keep Zenit out as much as possible.

Keep them out completely and it’s job done!

After doing so much good work last week to restore our faith, it would be a shame to undo it now. Another top performance from Celtic is needed to have any chance of progressing, and certainly to at least give us hope that we’re still heading in the right direction in Europe.

Krys (Twitter @krys1888)

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