As we discussed a few days ago, the margins between success and failure at this level are tight. Two rash tackles inside the box was enough to see Celtic into the playoff round. On another day, the story could have been different.
For me, Kolo Toure’s 30 minutes was eye-opening. His touch was assured, which gave him time on the ball. He was confident enough to hold possession while being closed down, and can carry the ball out of defence.
He talked throughout, often while gesticulating to team-mates to calm down or to push out in a line. It’s not that we had problems in central defence before he arrived, we didn’t, but he gave the entire team an authority we’ve missed. Without him, the game may have ended differently.
This is what a top player looks like in a Celtic shirt.
Craig Gordon had a big decision to make: come out of his box to head the ball, or stay and allow Kieran Tierney to manage the situation. Yes, it was a good finish, but the keeper made the wrong decision. If you head the ball while 25 yards off your line it needs to go safe or you shouldn’t there.
Did you notice Moussa Dembele’s penalty technique? There were two important elements: the pause and the number of steps.
Most players take a penalty as soon as the referee blows his whistle. Moussa didn’t. He waited. Players who wait until a moment of their choosing score a higher percentage of times than players who move on the whistle.
The delay empowers them. They are in charge, they decide when things start. The two step run up further denies the goalkeeper reaction time: “I’m the boss, you don’t know when we start and you’ll have no time to throw yourself about”.
Squeezing the pips
None of the 11 starters were Brendan Rodgers’ players, four joined until Ronny, while seven have been at the club since Neil Lennon’s days. It’s remarkable that we managed to eliminate a team who qualified for last season’s Champions League with players who were caught so short in Europe in recent seasons.
Last night we squeezed the last pips out of the squad. The addition of Kolo and the return of Erik and Jozo will give the defence a formidable look, but we are not right in central midfield, and I know every one of you held your breath when Leigh went down injured.
I left the ground feeling Brendan got a break in getting that squad past Astana (you could argue Ronny could have done with a couple of rash challenges inside the box in similar circumstances). Sometimes you need the breaks to achieve great things.
Oh, and if football was like that every time, every other leisure industry would close. I’m pretty sure no one in the North Stand knew two Astana players were sent off, such was the Festival of Drama.