Are we there yet? 

Well, what a night that was! Paradise was rocking and it showed signs that it could, again, become the fortress it was in the past.  Before discussing the events on the park, I must acknowledge the fantastic atmosphere created by the fans all over the park, with a special mention to the amazing input of the North Curve. The Spirit of the Jungle is back. As a veteran of the Jungle and now lucky enough to be in the North Curve (Section 111), I can honestly say that was the best atmosphere I’ve experienced since the new stadium was built. Don’t know how good it was elsewhere, but I thoroughly enjoyed it – it was a 2 hour aerobic workout as well as a thoroughly enjoyable game!

So, to the action: first and foremost, it has to be said that this team has undergone a catharsis over the few months Brendan Rodgers has been in charge. This time last year we saw the Bhoys implode in similar circumstances against Malmo; when Melikson scored the second for Be’er Shiva in 57 minutes there was a palpable fear that it was Groundhog Day in Celtic Park.

However, as the Griffalo put it, the manager has balls and that has transferred to the team! Instead of going in on themselves, the team dug in and although they didn’t create much in the 10 minutes after the goal, the double (defensive) substitutions in 60 and 63 minutes more than steadied the ship. Rodgers then changed the whole dynamic of the game and when the Mighty Moussa came on in the 70th minute, we gained the upper hand again. Celtic had 5 shots on goal in that last 20 minutes, scoring 2 of them – Moussa’s goal coming only 3 minutes after he come on!  Be’er Shiva had 2 attempts in the latter stages of the game but never managed to capitalise on them.

So we finished 5-2 ahead and although not ideal with losing 2 away goals, taking a 3 goal lead into the away leg isn’t too shabby.  So apart from the change in manager, what’s the main difference between imploding against Malmo and pushing on against Be’er Shiva when 9 of the starting line-up were there last season and 11 of the 14 players who featured were available against Malmo?

The introduction of Kolo Toure has had an enormous effect on the solidity of the defence and Sinclair’s guile and pace has made a real difference going forward. Dembele has proven his impact as a substitute in the last 2 European games, scoring critical late goals in both.

However, I would give the Manager more credit for his impact on 3 players who were already here and whose contributions last night were core to the success of the team: Tom Rogic, James Forrest and Scott Brown.

Tom Rogic is a wonderful, cultured talent and when on song is a massive player for the team. His ability to see a pass, turn with the ball and glide past players is of enormous benefit; his finish last night for the first goal was sublime. He had 5 players in front of him (with 2 pretty much on the line); there was a very small target to aim at and he hit it with precision to put us a goal ahead inside 10 minutes. He hit 36 passes last night with 34 finding their target – 94% accuracy.

Ten of the completed passes were to Griffiths and Sinclair (5 each) which shows that his link up between defence and attack is key to the success of the team. He received 33 passes, with 6 each from McGregor, Forrest and Lustig, so a lot of our creative play is going through Rogic.

His main weakness is that, at this time, he is not a 90 minute player. He was running on empty when he went off after 70 minutes. Also, his pace is deceptive – he is slower than he looks!  His football brain and quick feet allow him to move through the game with great effectiveness but, particularly later in games, he is very slow to fill the gaps or track back. However, in that creative role he is imperious.

What can we say about the new James Forrest? Pretty much that the Manager and his coaching staff look capable of turning him into the player he has always threatened to be! On any other night we Jamesie would have been man of the match, but Brown beat him to it last night.

There is a new found strength and determination with James Forrest. Last night he took another sore one in the second half, but like last week against Motherwell, the wee man got up quickly and got on with the game. In previous seasons tackles like that were the end of his contribution to the game; not so under the new regime.

He is also now a 90 minute player and was still running at Be’er Shiva in injury time as well as tracking back to defend. Another dimension that he has added to his game this season is that he is tackling defensively! So much so that he was booked in injury time, in his own half, whilst trying to win the ball back.

Much of the criticism levelled against him in the past was that he had no end product; his run and cross for the second goal last night put that one to bed!  He hit the bye-line, looked up and saw Griffiths at the edge of the box and hit a perfect cross for Griff to run on to and bury the header. Fantastic stuff!  His short passing and long passing were very good last night but his medium passing lets him down so he needs to work on that a bit.

He completed 31 of 43 passes, a 72% accuracy rate.  He received the ball 37 times 10 of them from Scott Brown and 8 from Lustig. So he is developing as a great out-ball on the right hand side. His pace and directness caused Be’er Shiva problems last night and, on this form, he will cause most teams problems this season. The main problem, however, is how we accommodate James Forrest, Scott Sinclair and Patrick Roberts in the same team. That’s a conundrum that Brendan Rodgers is paid a lot of money to resolve! Roberts is a fantastic talent that many will argue needs to be accommodated; however, James Forrest is a Celtic player, not on loan, so good luck with that one Brendan!

Scott Brown!  What a display last night. In my opinion, too many people have undervalued and under-rated Scott Brown in the past. Last night he answered all the critics who have doubted him. He had a 99% passing accuracy rate last night, completing 71 of 72 passes – more than any other player on the field. He received the ball 55 times last night, only Kieran Tierney matching that; and he distributed it effectively all over the park.IMG_2212

He was the fulcrum of our play last night with pretty much everything going through him. His link up play with first McGreogor, and then with Nir Bitton when he came on, was outstanding. He controlled the middle of the park in a superb first half with Callum McGregor and only for a brief period in the second half did he lose a grip on the midfield; that coincided with the loss of 2 goals. He drove the team forward when needed and stoutly defended when required.

His goal (a well-deserved one) was, after his poor left foot shot, very well executed.  Brown was my Man of the Match by some distance last night. If we can get the right midfield balance around Scott Brown then I can see him continuing this level of performance both at home and in Europe.

I cannot wait to see him putting Joey Barton in his place come September 10th!

The rest of the team performed extremely well last night with some other outstanding performances, and Callum McGregor probably played his best 45 minutes ever for Celtic in the first half last night. However, there were some areas that still cause some concern and although it may seem churlish on the back of such a great win, they need to be covered.

As I said, McGregor’s first 45 minutes were first class but he did lose his way a wee bit in the second half and was caught out at the first goal, trying to play offside rather than pressing the ball and the player.

This was part of a combination of errors – the type of errors we need to cut out. Toure was caught out of position when they broke and needs to get back quicker.

It can also be argued that Craig Gordon didn’t do himself any favours getting caught out at his near post; some may see that as harsh, but these are the types of errors he needs to cut out but his save at 4-2 just after Dembele scored was excellent.

Michael Lustig’s frailties were exposed at both goals: his lack of pace now is a major concern and both Be’er Shiva goals came from their left with Lustig not effective at either of them. Toure was solid at the back and was involved in some great running from defence last night, particularly at the second goal. He also completed 43 out of 44 passes, but he was caught out for the first Be’er Shiva goal.

Tierney and O’Connell were both 8 out of 10 last night but both showed a wee bit of inexperience at times. However, both are very young men and will learn from their performances and will be central to Celtic’s defence for many years to come.

Scott Sinclair was very brave for the first goal and had some great runs; however, he did have 2 very good chances which he should have scored. These are the types of chances that will come in tight European games and need to be taken. In the Group Stages these will be the difference between a win and a draw or a draw and a defeat.  However, for only his second full game, he did very well.

What about the rest?  Bitton was brought on to tighten up the middle of the park with Brown and he did that very effectively, completing 28 of 29 passes and receiving the ball 26 times: not bad in 30 minutes! Janko gave us greater solidity on the right hand side as Be’er Shiva were starting to exploit their left channels and he linked up very well with Forrest. Dembele was brought on to score and he did that within 3 minutes.  He’s big, strong and raw but he will become a great player for us.

What about Leigh Griffiths? 2 goals, 2 assists and a classic interview on BT Sport!  He was magic.


Written by VFR800 for CQN.


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