It was cold and very wet as we walked away from Celtic Park last night, but with adrenaline coursing through the veins, still coursing hours later as we tried to sleep, no one really noticed. We had just watched Celtic’s best performance of the season, one in which several players grew into the jersey before our eyes.
The gradient on Odsonne Edouard’s blossoming ability has been steady in the two-plus years he has been at Celtic. Suggestions that we would pay PSG the agreed £9m option for him were laughed at in 2017, but when he goes, as he will eventually, it will be for more than the £25m we received for Kieran Tierney.
The only question I have over him is whether he has already overtaken Moussa Dembele in ability. You would be hard pushed to counter this point.
Mohamed Elyounoussi demonstrated why Southampton spent so much money on him last year. This was a physically challenging game and Mohamed wholeheartedly threw himself into challenges and constantly made himself available. His pass that set James Forrest off before returning the ball to Mohamed, was a peach.
Not that that was the best pass of the night. This particular honour goes to Callum McGregor. Some of us grew up on tales of what Bobby Murdoch could do with a ball. I will not go into detail here, but look back at Callum’s pass and you’ll get the idea. Boli Bolingoli had work to do to catch it, but when he did, he dinked the ball over the lunging defender for Odsonne to head home.
At this stage, Celtic looked set to run Cluj ragged but expending so much energy early on caused the game to settle until the break. Cluj struggled to make an impact in the final third, relying on corner kicks and one free kick, which Fraser Forster did well to block. The rebound was knocked forward by a Cluj striker to a teammate in an offside position, who knocked the ball over the line. That was pretty much all Celtic had to worry about until very late in the game.
The outcome was in the balance for much of the second half. Celtic’s game management was much better than their Glasgow meeting in August, although in this respect, the unusual wait until the 86th minute before making a substitution when so many players on both sides were clearly flagging.
Ahead of their fourth meeting of the season, in Romania, Celtic are ahead 6-5 on aggregate, in truth, there is not much between the teams. Celtic delivered a hard won result which places them top of the group. There is a decent chance both will qualify for the knock-out rounds.
This feels like a memorable season in the making…