Last night’s was one of the most professional away performances in Europe by a Celtic team in recent years. We matched Rennes across the field and never looked under pressure, although few chances were made by either team, apart from the penalty incidents.
Fraser Forster made comfortable work with a first half shot, and importantly, ensured the rebound reached safety, while the best chance from open play in the game fell to Celtic. Ryan Christie rolled the ball in front of Boli Bolingoli for the full back to clip a low cross into the box. Odsonne Edouard darted for the near post but dummied the ball. The onrushing Mohamed Elyounoussi was a split second away from scoring into an empty net.
If this was a boxing match, there would be in inquiry into the nature of the way Celtic conceded a penalty in the 37th minute. Kristoffer Ajer pulled Niang’s shirt with one hand, dragged him by the wrist with the other, then scythed him down for good measure. Three simultaneous penalty offences.
It was inexplicable, coming well into a game Celtic had yet to concede a chance worthy of the name in. Ajer made sure that situation would change. With 90 minutes gone and the game poised at 1-1, Kris again pulled the shirt of an opponent inside the box, an incident that alarmed me as much as the first, coming after we all hoped Kris had learned a lesson.
There is no viable explanation for what happened. He should be allowed to think about what he did on the bench him on Sunday.
When asked at his pre-match press conference which Celtic players concerned him, the first name out of Rennes manager Julien Stephan’s lips was “Christie”. This 90 minutes validated that view.
Ryan has an impressive burst of pace over 20 yards and used this talent to nick the ball away from a Rennes defender early in the second half in the corner of the box. The defender was already committed and took the leg from Christie. Referee, Jose Sanchez, had a perfect view of the incident but inexplicably waved play on. It was a portent of things to come.
If Kristoffer Ajer left his smarts in the dressing room, James Forrest was the hooped equivalent of Einstein. Inside the Rennes box, he dropped the shoulder, then burst the other way, showing his opponent enough of the ball to tempt an intercept, but with Houdini-like deft, the ball was gone, replaced by James’ leg, which received the tackle instead. The tariff for away teams for this Spanish referee is clearly two penalty incidents for one award. He pointed to the spot and Ryan Christie made us forget how fragile Celtic were from 12 yards in recent seasons.
By this stage, Rennes knew they were second best and reverted to farce. Jonny Hayes has developed a healthy role as cult hero coming off the bench in recent weeks. With Niang racing onto a loose ball on the Rennes right, Hayes put his heart and soul into a flying tackle, knocking the ball clear away from the striker, who writhed theatrically for two minutes, before protesting at the challenge once on his feet.
Replays showed it was a genuinely great tackle. The incident was reminiscent of the Jozo Simunovic tackle on our old pal Kenny Miller at Ibrox, without the ridiculous whining from Andy Walker in commentary.
Bayo replaced Odsonne Edouard but within four minutes was booked for an incident where his elbow clashed with da Silva, who left the field on a stretcher. The yellow card was technically correct, but it was a nuanced. da Silva barged Bayo as they left the ground, spinning the Celtic striker, which caused the damaging collision.
With da Silva off the field and all possible substitutions made, Rennes were reduced to 10 men. Goalkeeper Mendy then feigned contact by writhing around holding his face after Bayo chased a ball he fumbled. Again the referee had a great view of the incident and waved play on, but with the keeper on the ground holding the ball, Sanchez had no choice but to check on his condition. After speaking to Mendy, the referee showed Bayo a second yellow card. Those who say, “Why badger a referee, they never change their mind?” are wrong.
A couple of general observations. Scott Brown picked up an early yellow card. We are going to lose him to suspension during this campaign, so should get busy with a backup plan.
I can go back 30 years and recite good Celtic performances in Europe that were ruined by poor game management late on. With 15 minutes to go last night, Neil Lennon knew what to do to get the point. It was a great start to the campaign, well done.