Last week’s first leg once again showed us the difference a truly quality manager can make to a game. For the first twenty minutes, things weren’t quite right. Some might argue that a great manager wouldn’t have set the team up that way in the first place, but I’d suggest a great manager isn’t afraid to try something that might work well.
It didn’t, and so Brendan Rodgers quickly made amends and later put his hands up to not getting it right to begin with. That’s not a sign of weakness or flawed ability, that’s a sign of someone who can admit when they’re wrong. That’s an oddly rare trait.
Whether the damage done during those opening twenty minutes turns out to be a disaster for us and our Champions League aspirations remains to be seen. The away goal is something we avoided against Rosenborg last season, but not this time. Still, three goals in reply from us means we have a decent lead to take to Trondheim now, albeit with the knowledge that a 2-0 defeat would see us go out on away goals.
The Martin O’Neill years spring immediately to mind.
Back in 2001, O’Neill’s Celtic travelled to Trondheim and were on the wrong end of that exact scoreline – both goals coming courtesy of an old friend in Harald Brattbakk. Such a result tonight would see us drop into the Europa League qualifying and a trip to Cork. Not something we particularly want.
But that defeat came in the Champions League group stages, and was a different story from what we face this time. For a better comparison, the 2002/03 season of O’Neill’s gives us both positives and negatives.
That season saw us ultimately reach the UEFA Cup final in Seville, but the road there started out with major disappointment as we missed out on the Champions League group stages following a qualifying round defeat to FC Basel. The story was a familiar one. We fell behind at home in the first leg before coming back to win 3-1 and take a lead to Switzerland. There we lost 2-0, and the agonisingly close Chris Sutton chance right at the end of the game is still an image that haunts me – even if the season did play out in spectacular style after that.
Part of the road to Seville saw us face Stuttgart, a daunting task given Henrik Larsson was out injured for both legs. Again we fell behind in the home leg before winning 3-1 on the night. This time, however, we quickly scored two goals in Germany to kill the tie off. Stuttgart managed to turn things around on the night and win the match 3-2, but the 5-4 aggregate victory with a better count of away goals meant they were still two goals short of knocking us out.
Clearly then the best thing to do tonight would be to score an early goal and all but kill off the hopes of Rosenborg turning this tie in their favour. What worries me is if it’s Rosenborg that get that early goal. We all know we’re prone to conceding those, especially away from home!
Once more we face the prospect of a makeshift defence. Jozo Simunovic remains suspended having been given an extra game by UEFA. Dedryck Boyata only returned to Lennoxtown at the start of this week after his World Cup exploits, while Mikael Lustig is slowly returning to fitness following his own trip around Russia in the summer. You’d imagine the defence will be the same as last week, with Kristoffer Ajer and Jack Hendry once more in the centre of defence, flanked by Kieran Tierney and Cristian Gamboa – the third of four players who were at the World Cup for us.
Tom Rogic came off the bench last week as he also returned from duty in Russia, but by that point we’d already scored our three goals and had hit the woodwork on three separate occasions too. On another night this tie would already dead and buried because we’d have won 6-1 rather than 3-1, but it wasn’t to be and one can only hope we don’t regret those three close calls by the end of tonight.
The way we should look at that is to think that we could have scored a barrel load so we should be more than capable of scoring over there as well. There should be nothing to fear, even if we do concede an early goal. We’ll still have a lead, we’ll still have the ability to increase it and wipe out that away goal advantage. We just have to believe in our abilities, and if Brendan Rodgers has done anything in the last two years it’s install a belief throughout the squad.
Finish the job tonight, and next week we can talk about AEK Athens visiting Glasgow. After we’ve raised a certain league flag at the weekend of course. But more on that in the coming days.
For now we have a focus on negotiating our way past Rosenborg. The 1-0 win over there last season was probably our toughest and most important win of the whole season. Hopefully with a 3-1 lead in our pocket this time, things aren’t so tough tonight.
But this is Celtic, when do we ever make things easy for ourselves?
Krys (Twitter @krys1888)