This time yesterday, I was full of “Night without usual expectations for Celtic” chat. Nothing in my years watching Celtic told me we were going to win on our Roman Holiday. The opening 10 minutes did nothing to change this view. Lazio scored within 7 minutes and within 8, they were back in possession inside the Celtic box.
The home side needed to win and were prepared to throw men forward in the opening period, which unsettled Celtic. When Celtic were eventually able to get their passing game going, Lazio adopted a more conventional formation. Had they continued to throw runners into our box, the outcome could have been different.
So many times after European games you and I have discussed the importance of mistakes in determining the outcome. Commanding possession is all fine and well, but the team who makes fewest defensive mistakes are more often likely to win.
On 38 minutes Mohamed Elyounoussi lost, but then won back, possession, as Lazio failed to clear their lines. His pass to James Forrest was too crisp to be intercepted, but James’ defensive marker took himself out of play by vainly attempting to steal the ball. From that moment, the goal was inevitable.
James scored a similar and equally important goal in Champions League qualification in Rosenborg two years ago. His shot inside the keepers unprotected far post was thunderous. Celtic had a foothold in the game which would ask big questions of the team currently in a Champions League qualification spot in Serie A.
My heart was in my mouth only once, when the referee rushed towards Scott Brown while taking a card out his pocket, but the colour was yellow and Scott would remain on the pitch to complete a gladiatorial performance.
Lazio needed to win to give them a realistic chance of qualification and the closing 10 minutes of regulation time saw them again flood into the Celtic box. Fraser Forster, who two weeks ago produced a Save of the Ages, this time produced three fine stops which would have beaten a lesser keeper.
The more Lazio pushed for a winner, the more space Odsonne Edouard was able to exploit. The French striker was isolated for much of the two games against Lazio, but whenever Celtic cleared long, he caused the defence problems. Set free by the impressive Elyounoussi, he had the best chance of the game, but pushed his shot wide of the far post with the keeper beaten.
Edouard had one more decisive action to come. A careless pass, which should have gone across the Lazio back line, was intercepted by Odsonne, who had Forrest and substitute Olivier Ntcham in support. Edouard drew the defenders before slipping the ball to Ntcham.
Think back to Blackburn 2002. That through ball for Larsson, who drew the keeper and deftly chipped the ball into the net. 17 years later Ntcham did the same in the most impressive cameo since Hitchcock folded his canvass chair for the last time. The Romans were in ruins.
Let’s be clear about the magnitude of this win. Lazio are currently strutting through Serie A and played their strongest team last night. They have not lost at the Stadio Olimpico in all competitions in over six months. Six months! The former Olympic stadium is part of the Foro Italico complex, originally known as the Foro Mussolini (Mussolini’s Forum). The old fascist’s structure was turned upside down last night.
This is a very good Celtic team, perhaps the best we have seen since 2012.