A fascinating top of the table encounter, with both teams under-strength, ended predictably as the champions had enough in the tank to again put Newco to the sword. Creating coherent teamwork all over the pitch is an important part of football, and Paulo Bernardo (21) rewarded his manager by opening the scoring for the second game in a run of three consecutive starts.
His thunderous strike from a corner kick on 25 minutes was reward for the control he brought to the match. It was his third attempt at goal the first two narrowly missing the target. A few of us were left wondering why it took so long for Paulo to be given a run in the team.
There was no such stablity of selection in defence, as Liam Scales partnered with this third right-sided central defender in two games. With Cameron Carter-Vickers out with a hamstring injury, Stephen Welsh had to retire on 35 minutes with a shoulder injury. Maik Nawrocki (22) come on to make his first appearance since August and only his fourth in total since arriving in Glasgow in August.
It was a huge ask to expect a new player to perform at this level after such a period out, but after a nervy first touch, Maik grew into the game. He is a player who enjoys a tackle and is comfortable in possession. There’s lots more to come from him.
Newco were criticised when these teams met in September after Callum McGregor was “given space” to control the game. The reaction to that feedback was clear when they pressed Celtic. As Celtic progressed the ball out of defence, they crowded McGregor and the central area, leaving Liam Scales and Welsh/Nawrocki space to step forward. This gave Scales the opportunity he needed to further enhance his reputation.
Despite their plan for McGregor, Celtic controlled the flow of the game and the captain led the charge. He moved into space where a teammate had an angle to find him, then drove forward, often only short distances, but this was enough to open opportunities up for Celtic and get Newco backpedalling.
You can control a game but you still need strikers who can put the ball in the net. Yesterday you and I talked about how Kyogo terrifies Newco. He comes alive against them like few others I have seen against the Rangerses. That’s twice this season he has scored winning goals against them with a shot from outside the box. You will remember that he started the year by scoring late at Ibrox, to secure Celtic a point and a crucial advantage in the league race.
The goal itself was masterful. He dropped off his marker to receive in space, turned onto his (supposedly weaker) left foot and shot early, before the keeper had a chance to set himself.
Daizen Maeda must be a nightmare to defend against. His speciality is winning control of a 50/50 ball. Watch him lower his centre of gravity, knock the ball away from his opponent then nudge himself into an advantageous position.
Throughout his time on the field this attribute secured possession for Celtic in advanced areas, it also forced a thoroughly subjugated Balogun into a professional foul on 71 minutes, which resulted in an inevitable red card.
Thereafter, it was all too easy for Celtic for a period but the game ended with more tension than it should have. Newco were smart enough to play for and win a series of free kicks which enabled them to throw numbers forward. One free kick (seemed harsh) was converted by Tavernier on 88 minutes. There should be an inquest into how we setup on these occasions after conceding the same goal in consecutive home games.