Since last weeks regular Monday blog we have qualified for the Champions League (CL), witnessed the draw for the group stages, watched the transfer window close and twice threw away a lead at home to Hibs.
Given the level of activity this last week, I decided to cover the Helsingborgs game in a separate blog on Thursday, which can be found here – http://www.hailhailmedia.com/the-brummie-bhoy-blog-4/
The day after the Helsinborgs game brought the draw for the CL group stages. I get enormous pride seeing Celtic represented at this, in amongst the cream of European Football which is where we belong.
One of my (many) gripes about modern football is the creation of the term ‘Champions League’ when it is anything but. I personally would much prefer to see a separate un-seeded competition containing only league champions, complimented by a stronger Europa League containing the best of the rest. However, money will dictate this will never happen again.
Despite the glitz and commercialism that surrounds the competition, it is still the premier European competition and the anticipation for this day had been running since winning the league in April.
The money men at the club would no doubt have hoped to draw the big guns to help maximise income, whilst Lenny indicated he fancied taking on Madrid, until Man City and Ajax dropped into their group. Like most others I wanted some new opposition that generated interest and excitement but that also gave us a fighting chance of progression, whether in 2nd or 3rd place.
In the end, we got a mixed bag. Very familiar faces in Barcelona and Benfica, plus a return for the brilliant Aiden McGeady and his Spartak Moscow team. I feel we have a small chance of finishing 2nd in the group and a decent chance of claiming 3rd spot, especially if we can maintain our home form. We will need at least 2 home wins and a draw away to achieve this which is well within our capabilities.
A bit of credit to the club as well for selling the match bundles at £84. It would have been easy to try and fleece the fans given the 4 year gap from the CL, so credit where credit is due. Me personally, I have booked up to go back to Lisbon for the Benfica game, the scene of my best ever ‘Celtic’ experience when meeting the Lisbon Lions on the pitch at the National Stadium.
We barely had time to digest the implications of the CL draw as the following day saw the closure of the transfer window. Celtic had been extremely quiet on the transfer front over the summer, seemingly so that they could base their transfers on whichever European competition we were going to be in post August.
This didn’t seem to match with the actual signings as we made two loan signings, secured an out of contract player and made a moderate outlay for the Centre Half we have all been looking for. Online rumours were that a the price tag on a number of our targets had gone up since we qualified for the CL, but this is only to be expected and was the risk the club chose to take.
Ultimately, we filled the positions we needed too and for me 3 players come with a sound pedigree and offer plenty of promise (I know nothing about the goalkeeper). My over-riding feeling though is that we could have at least brought in Effie Ambrose earlier in the window, given the small transfer fee involved.
The real plus of the window was the fact that we managed to shift on the entire deadwood from the squad and we didn’t lose any first team regulars. This is some achievement so credit to whoever was responsible for the revolving door at Parkhead.
I will use next week’s blog to look through the squad again and see how we look for the season ahead following the closure of the transfer window. However, I would like to offer a huge Hail Hail (and good luck) to Efe Ambrose, Lassad Nouioui, Miku Fedor and Lubos Kamenar. May your Celtic careers be long and successful.
Onto Saturday and it was easy to forget that we were due back in league action against an improving Hibs. Without wishing to sound like a broken record, the team practically picked itself once again due to players missing through injury. If my memory is correct, this was the 3rdleague game running that we had only one senior outfield player on the bench.
Twardzik and Watt returned to the starting line up along with Lustig and McCourt as Celtic set up 4-4-2 from the outset. I commented before the game that this would be a big test for Tony Watt as he will need to play a different type of game from his previous appearances. In away games he is given space to run into behind the defence but this is far more restricted at home, whereby more intelligent link-up play is required.
Once again, like at Inverness this formation paid dividends and Celtic’s attacking play in the first half was excellent. Forrest and Hooper particularly excelled and with a bit more luck Hooper should have been on for a hat-trick by half time, twice striking the woodwork.
Wanyama had a couple of half chances and Tony Watt should have added to the scoring when put clean through on goal, only to pull his shot wide. We had to settle for a single goal lead at the break, courtesy of Lustig’s smart finish from a Paddy McCourt corner. Hibs had barely threatened the Celtic throughout the first half.
A further blow on the injury front saw Wanyama fail to re-appear for the second half, replaced by Jackson Irvine which gave the team an even more youthful look. This change, possibly added to a bit of complacency saw Celtic allow Hibs to come storming back into the game.
Firstly, Eoin Doyle was denied a goal when his shot bounced back off the post and then horrific indecision by Fraser Forster allowed Tim Clancy the simple task of rolling the ball into an empty net. A real howler from a player who is improving week on week.
Some observations at this point. I felt that Tony Watt was struggling a bit playing with his back to goal and the chemistry he and Hooper had shown at Inverness was badly missing. Also, Paddy McCourt was very quiet in what was a big opportunity for him, especially as a senior player
Paddy burst onto the scene at Celtic as a tricky winger who would regularly beat a number of players during one of his mazy runs but they are now seen less and less. For me, he needs to play in the middle of the park, preferably behind the striker(s) as his ability to go either way using either foot is horrible for a defender to face. With his lack of pace, it’s a bit easier to contain him from the wing.
This ability was demonstrated shortly after his move to a central role when he beat a few players to get into the box but a poor finish undone his good work. I felt moving Tony Watt to the left wing was a bad decision, as this only isolated him further from Gary Hooper whose influence in the game had dwindled.
Despite the deteriation in their play, Celtic managed to get back in front again when Lustig’s determined efforts saw James McPake turn the ball past his keeper. This should have been enough to settle the team down but some uncharacteristic poor defending from Adam Matthews allowed Tom Cairney to progress into the box and slot past Fraser Forster.
Celtic managed to create some decent chances late on, none better than the one that fell to Twardzik but they couldn’t manage to find the winning goal. On another day this could have been a comprehensive win and when you look at the inexperience within the team then we are always going to get results like this.
I had to leave the game early to help get things set up for the Paul Larkin book launch and was horrified to hear afterwards that the players were booed off the pitch. I don’t know how vocal and widespread it was but it’s not needed or welcome for a young team like this.
We are in a unique position this season, in that our biggest and only likely rival no longer exists and so we are almost guaranteed the league. Never will there be a better opportunity to blood young talent but they need support, not some of the idiotic screaming and abuse that I heard during the game on Saturday.
We pride ourselves on the level of support and commitment we give to the team but there are too many fans at home games who are only interested in moaning and dishing out abuse to the players, which a real pain in the hole to be honest.
BrummieBhoy Internet Bampot MOM award for Hibs game goes to Mikel Lustig
The day was finished off with another cracking book launch by Paul Larkin. The night has been documented, both in word and video, by much better scribes than me so I wont comment too much other to say how much I enjoy being involved in helping to get the night up and running and thanks to all those who introduced themselves and said hello.
Hail Hail and more power to the Internet Bampots.
Liam (twitter @BrummieBhoy)