Jim Traynor, Chick Young, Graham Spiers, Neil Doncaster, Stewart Regan, Mark Guidi, Daryll King, Gordon Dalziel, Hugo Keevins – your Armageddon took one hell of a beating from the Bhoys in Green last night.
Cast your mind back, its 8.48pm on 1st August and Helsinki have just scored a priceless away goal to take the lead at Parkhead. We are all sat there thinking “mon Celtic, don’t do this to us now…..”. 8 Euro goals scored and 4 Euro wins later and we are now into the CL group stages, how about that for a turnaround.
So despite all the doom and gloom from the MSM this summer after the rules were finally applied to Rangers, we are now sitting at the end of August with a guaranteed £15m from CL qualification, £6m+ banked from the sale of Dave Ki and are top of the league with a game in hand.
Oh and as I type this we are waiting on a couple of new signings for the team which will give the club another lift. Has there been a much better time to be a Celtic supporter than this !!
Before I talk about the Helsingborgs game, I wanted to use this blog to give a special mention to a player that has borne the brunt of many supporters’ frustrations and abuse over the years – Georgios Samaras, a.k.a The Athenian F*nian (© Jhimbo) or The Greek Tragedy depending on your stance.
I remember being at Fir Park during the early part of Strachan’s reign and Samaras had recently joined the club. If my memory is correct we raced into a 4 goal lead by half time and the big fella was totally unplayable, scoring a couple of goals. I thought we had a real player on our hands and he would go onto score a barrow load of goals for the club.
The reality was somewhat different and we saw at the end of the Strachan era, through the Mowbray spell and into the start of Lenny’s stint that Samaras was never a goal scoring Centre Forward. Lenny looked ready to ditch him but instead played a huge role in the turnaround of his Celtic career.
Samaras playing wide left suddenly looked a different player, no doubt buoyed by his excellent performance in a 2-0 win at Ibrox (where he admittedly played up front due to a personnel shortage). His ability to take the ball and drive it 50-100 yards down the pitch is a godsend to the team and something we have missed since the days of McGeady.
Let’s be clear, Samaras has many faults. His passing is average, shooting poor, tracking back is poor and his decision making is questionable at times but this last attribute is also one of his strengths as he rarely knows what he is about to do, which makes the job for a defender to guess even harder.
I have had to sit through games at Parkhead listening to the day-trippers and moaning fans jumping on his back at every opportunity, despite the good work he may have done previously. I just urge supporters to focus on his strengths because he is our key player for European games this season, no doubt about it.
Ironically, I would leave him out on Saturday against Hibs and play 4-4-2 because it is exactly the sort of game he is likely to break down moves and possession instead of enhancing our quick passing play. Use him in the right games and he will remain a great force for the team.
Onto the game itself and there were no real surprises as Lenny picked his strongest team from the fit and available players with Forrest, Samaras, Brown and Commons returning to a 4-2-3-1 formation.
Celtic were never going to try and sit on their lead, confirmed by the 4 attacking players we had in the team. Helsinborgs were playing a 4-4-2 to give themselves a chance of getting the goals to claw back the deficit from Celtic. As usual Parkhead was buzzing with excitement and anticipation despite not being totally full and the atmosphere was excellent once again.
There was little action of significance in the opening stages. An error from Izaguirre allowed Helsingborgs to advance into the box but this was quickly snuffed out following a great challenge from Kelvin Wilson. Here is another player who seems to be turning around his previous poor form and he was excellent throughout this game for Celtic.
A couple more half chances were swapped between the sides before Lenny made a tactical switch on the 20 minute mark, moving Samaras up top and Commons to the left in a 4-4-2 formation.
This seems to give Celtic added impetus and they took the lead shortly afterwards. A shot from Brown was touched on by Samaras and found its way to Hooper who scored from close-range. Hooper looked offside to me, a fact verified by TV replays but like in the first leg it was great to see Celtic get an unusual slice of luck in these games.
The switch in tactics seemed to bring James Forrest much more into the action and he had a decent effort following a one-two with Samaras which the keeper saved well.
Samaras was continuing to have an excellent game, winning most aerial battles, bringing others into play and constantly running at the Helsingborgs defence. When he is in this sort of mood he is a constant source of menace to the opposition and at times unplayable.
As expected Helsingborgs pushed on in the second half to try and get back into the tie but they created few threatening chances. A free-kick from the edge of the box, was easily saved by Forster.
Samaras left the game just after the hour, his man of the match award already cemented and was replaced by Tony Watt. James Forrest then almost doubled the lead on 80 minutes with a great turn and shot that smashed back off the post.
It was impressive to see Celtic grow in strength as the game progressed whilst Helsinborgs seem to be fading by the minute. None more so than Scott Brown who despite carrying an injury was continually supporting the attack and was unlucky not to score at least one goal.
Celtic finally doubled there advantage when a great Kris Commons cross was met by Wanyama to head home, reminiscent of his goal at the weekend against Inverness. The party atmosphere in the ground was superb for the closing minutes as everybody looks forward to the mouth watering prospect of European big guns arriving again in Paradise.
BrummieBhoy Internet Bampot MOTM award for Helsinborgs game goes to Georgios Samaras
Liam (twitter @BrummieBhoy)