Both teams were short of key personnel when Celtic met Newco yesterday. For Celtic, this resulted in a less-fluid central midfield, the consequences for Newco, short in defence, were more profound. Their two central defenders each sold a goal; Ben Davies, who failed to connect properly with a header and John Souttar, whose pass-back never reached his keeper.
On both occasions Jota was the immediate beneficiary. The fist, merely as a conduit as the ball made its way to Kyogo, the second when he raced ahead of Allan McGregor to win the ball before rolling it into the net from a tight angle.
The early phases of the game saw a goal disallowed for both teams. Kyogo’s excellent take and finish was offside. Morelos shoved Alistair Johnston in the back before finishing at a corner. It was one of those, two hands on the back, forcing the opponent to the ground shoves, but Newco’s acolytes seemed to take literally the notion that you get your first violent crime for free in Scotland.
Matt O’Riley had his best game in months and made the cutback for Kyogo to open the scoring. THE Japanese striker had to turn before finding space to shoot. McGregor got both hands to the ball but was unable to keep it out, a sure sign of his decline.
James Tavernier has suffered form lapses regularly against Celtic but on this occasion was at his very best. His free kick right on halftime clipped the underside of the bar on its way into the net, leaving Joe Hart helpless. Shortly after Celtic went 3-1 ahead Tavernier’s header into the ground again gave Hart no chance as he brought Newco back into the game.
For the second time Celtic conceded at a set-piece, on this occasion at the second ball into the box. Newco had a three against two overload at the back post, as Celtic pressed the ball on their left, where Tavernier loitered after taking a corner kick. It was another good goal with no clear defensive mistake.
In the closing stages of the game, with Newco ‘buying’ a free kick every time they were in possession, Tavernier had another chance but saw the cross too late.
There was a moment in last week’s game at Ross County which was very encouraging. Oh Hyeon-gyu collected a Joe Hart goal kick and turned his man in one move. It was so smooth it made me think we might have a real player on our hands, but my enthusiasm was tempered by the fact that the defender in question was a 16-year-old.
Late in yesterday’s game, he turned Ben Davies and released Alexandro Bernabei. This was the genuine article against an experienced defender. We have a real player on our hands. Bearing down on goal with only the keeper to beat, Bernabei didn’t read the script. Instead of shooting, he passed into an empty area, which he should have known could only be empty.
The game played out as most of us expected. Celtic missed Reo Hatate and Aaron Mooy was not match fit. Consequentially, our crisp passing game was missing, but we have match winners all over the field; Jota, Kyogo, Johnston and Taylor were never going to be denied. Newco profited from two excellent set-pieces, there’s not too much you can do when an opponent gets these right.
‘Mick’ Beale has been flawless at Newco apart from the three occasions he has faced Celtic. Alas, almost good enough is not good enough. I think we can all agree, this is a very Happy Easter!