Graeme Murty twice took Newco teams to Celtic Park, competed throughout and left with a point on both occasions. It was not until a home 2-3 defeat in March, that his team fell apart. We were promised this season’s Newco were clearly better than last’s, but there was no evidence of that yesterday. Newco defended like Hamilton Accies did a week earlier and were no more effective.
I’m usually annoyed when a goal-scorer is awarded Man of the Match, as the goal often masks a superior performance from a team-mate, but Olivier Ntcham pulled the strings all game. A year ago he was still finding his feet in Glasgow, you will remember a player nervous on the ball. Two weeks ago I thought he should be rested, as his passing was neither crisp nor accurate, but he controlled this game throughout.
The goal was a masterpiece. Tom Rogic won the ball on the edge of the Celtic penalty area, on one of the rare occasions Newco were up field. The break was on. So often players run into dead-ends when presented with half the field to run, but Tom twice made subtle changes to his direction, keeping the path ahead open.
The passes to Eduard, then onto James Forrest, were perfect, but Forrest’s awareness to pick out Ntcham between retreating defenders, instead of shooting, decided the contest. It showed great intelligence.
While Newco defended manfully for most of the afternoon, it took one slip of concentration to decide the game. Ovie Ejaria tracked Tom Rogic until the edge of the penalty area, but switched off while team-mates changed who they were marking. Rogic was picked up by another defender, Ejaria stopped running, leaving Ntcham free.
When you hit the woodwork three times before you score, then again, with the score at 1-0, you would be forgiven for thinking that this was going to be ‘one of those games’, but this never looked likely. Newco were so poor. They came to defend deep, offering Celtic free possession out from the back. In recent weeks Celtic have struggled to unlock teams who defend in this manner. AEK, Suduva and Hamilton Accies each did well for long periods; I suspect Gerrard based his game plan on doing the same, but a little better.
Craig Gordon had little to do: a Morelos shot from a tight angle which flew straight at him, being the sum total. That was in no small way thanks to the Belgian. Dedryck Boyata was imperious, clearing everything in the air with ease and comfort. I am glad to have him.
There was not a weakness, never mind a failure, in the team. There is a long hard season ahead, and we will face greater challenges, but there is already a familiar feel to the season. Newco are seventh in the league but now face a series of fixtures which should enable them to climb the table. Both teams will compete domestically and in Europe until December, with Celtic players also having international duties during this period. We have been here before and have the squad to get the job done.
Newco are light in experience and personnel. They will not compete for the title and have yet to produce evidence of their credentials as runners up (imagine they hyperbole if they had Hearts’ start to the season!). Why they continually loop into this fantasy about “the gap narrowing” is beyond me. All they have done is spent more money for a result which their youth coach bettered. Twice. They present themselves ready for shearing each time.
“If God didn’t want them sheared, he would not have made them sheep”, Eli Wallach, from that other Magnificent 7.
A Match for Cancer, Petrov v Milner
We gather on Saturday to fund three organisations with their work on cancer: your Celtic FC Foundation, the Stiliyan Petrov Foundation and the James Milner Foundation. The game will see the return of our own Magnificent 7, Henrik Larsson, as well as Lubo Moravcik, Artur Boruc, Paddy McCourt, John Hartson, Joos Valgaeren, Johan Mjallby, Robbie Keane, Owen Hargreaves, Dirk Kuyt and Peter Crouch.
It will also be an opportunity to see the magnificent Hristo Stoichkov, Luis Garcia and Gaizka Mendieta play for Petrov’s Celtic team. You can buy tickets here, only £14 adult, £6 for concessions. Or call the Ticket Office, 0871 226 1888. Stoichkov, Mendieta, Larsson, Moravcik and McCourt, all doing their thing at Celtic Park, while Artur gets a chance to relive some antics from the past! Treat yourself.