This was a classic European game, requiring concentration, effort, but above all, patience. AIK were better than the SPFL fare we meet at the weekends, but Celtic Park was a stretch for them, while they enjoyed a spell of possession between the goals, they never landed a punch.
Despite dominating possession and territory, Celtic were inhibited in the first half by the stiff wind blowing towards Craig Gordon’s goal. The storm calmed during the second half, but by then, the hosts were well in control.
The back line played well, perhaps their best performance of the season. Kristoffer Ajer won man of the match and Christopher Jullien put in his most impressive performance for the club yet, but it was Jozo Simunovic who I thought stole the show at the back. Twice he made difficult interceptions that denied AIK an opening, one of which when running back, looking forward and jumping for a high ball that changed direction in the wind.
In full flow, Mikey Johnston, Ryan Christie and James Forrest are formidable. Defenders bunch around them as they are so fast and direct, no one individual seems able to stop them. Playing well is a big part of the job, but putting the ball in the net is more important. The game turned when (again) James Forrest did just that. His image will surely be next to adorn the stadium coverings.
Boli Bolingoli created the chance with a surging run forward but the angle was tight for Forrest, who saw the keeper get two hands to his shot but was unable to stop it crossing the line. Odsonne Edouard’s free kick was a delight and gave Celtic the two-goal margin they deserved. The keeper was less liable for this goal, but he will not enjoy watching either back.
I was very critical of Neil Lennon’s game management and team selection against Cluj last week, but he got everything right last night. After the second goal went in, Celtic did what they should have done nine days earlier and made sure their opponents did not get space in the final third. AIK were under pressure as the game neared its end, but Celtic had control of the tie and were not going to let that slip.
Nor were there experimental selections; Callum McGregor was back in central mid, Bolingoli at left full back.
Delighted big Fraser is back, we’ll talk more about him shortly.