If you caught Leigh Griffiths’ post-match Radio Scotland interview you’ll have noticed the profuse support offered to Brendan Rodgers. We’ll discuss that in more detail tomorrow, but what was clear to Leigh and the rest of us last night, was the Celtic dug out an excellent result from a position which would likely have seen them eliminated a year earlier.
We were well on top early on against Legia, Maribor and Malmo but crumbled when the going got tough. Not anymore.
It’s hard to know what’s gotten into James Forrest, one of six Scots in the starting lineup, but I suspect the arrival of Scott Sinclair has had as big an impact on him than that of Brendan. Wide players are always subject to fluctuations in effectiveness levels, but in James and Scott we’ve a standard which is clearly higher than we’ve had for years.
There was a moment late in the game when James was easily robbed attempting a take-on in the final third, but this was a symptom of having run himself into the ground over the previous 80-odd minutes. He played a big part in the result and left nothing on the field.
One of James’ more important contributions was the dinked cross for Leigh’s header which made it 2-0. The goal was technically difficult, but was eclipsed by Leigh’s second. That free kick was in a perfect position to whip at the far post, allowing players to attack the ball, with the keeper not knowing if he should stay on his line to defend the shot, or come out to block a header.
That was the play we all expected, including the Hapoel keeper. Instead, Leigh played an incredibly difficult free kick into the top near post. Brendan Rodgers must have had no idea the player was capable of work like this when he arrived in June.
Scott Brown has been transformed from the player we watched end last season, quite probably because he’s now fully fit. His goal was a worthy acknowledgement of his best game in a year.
Brendan was right to express concern after the game that we let a halftime winning position slip so easily. There were mistakes throughout the team leading to the first Hapoel goal, but I suspect experience will tighten things up.
Kolo Toure was immense. His rampaging run setup the second goal, but when he was caught ahead of the ball on the 55th minute, the defence behind him didn’t have the organisation to prevent a goal. We’ll not see this happen often from now on.
The second half arrivals of Nir Bitton and Moussa Dembele proved decisive. Nir brought a calmness to central midfield as Callum McGregor tired, while Moussa outjumped defence and keeper to score what was a priceless goal.
Craig Gordon’s been under pressure in recent weeks. There was little he could do about Hapoel’ second, a fabulous shot which nicked between Brown and Toure, but he’ll be annoyed their first nipped in at his near post.
This tie, however, turned the moment he made a point-blank save to stop the score going to 4-3. We’ll be able to look back later this season and say that was the moment we secured our Champions League adventure.
Feeling good about last night, but if only we’d a player like Patrick Roberts, or Erik Sviatchenko to come in and take things up a notch……