BRENDAN RODGERS watched Celtic remain unbeaten in their four-game pre-season tour after a goalless encounter with old European foes Maribor this evening.
It was the same opponents who killed off Ronny Deila’s hopes of taking the Parkhead side into the Champions League group stages two seasons ago.
However, on this occasion, the Hoops controlled the bulk of the 90 minutes although they didn’t display the killer touch to supplement their superiority.
The best of the early chances fell to Celtic in the eighth minute when Ryan Christie snapped in an angled drive from the left-hand side of the penalty box.
The keeper scrambled to push the ball into the tracks of Stefan Johansen 14 yards out, but the Norwegian fluffed his first-time delivery and his mishit effort swept harmlessly wide of the post.
There was a scare in the 14th minute when Leigh Griffiths went down awkwardly as he challenged for the ball on the halfway mark. Thankfully, he was able to resume shortly afterwards.
On the 20-minute mark, Rodgers would have been satisfied with the possession play of his team, but he would have frowned at the lack of service to Moussa Dembele and Griffiths up front.
The French Under-20 international striker, starting his second game after his move from Fulham, was a willing worker as he chased down everything, but, frustratingly, there were few balls placed at his feet.
Dembele showed excellent awareness by bringing Johansen into play with a neat reverse pass, but the midfielder’s ball out to the raiding Saidy Janko on the right was intercepted at the last gasp by a Slovenian defender and the opportunity was lost.
Rodgers was forced into a change in the 26th minute when Johansen limped out of the action with a slight knock to be replaced by Callum McGregor, who scored at this stadium two years ago in the 1-1 draw.
Janko, Scott Brown and Christie combined on the right before the young Highlander fed a pass into space for his onrushing skipper, but the keeper saw the danger and raced swiftly from his line to snatch the ball.
Dino Hotic attempted to bring Craig Gordon into action just after the half-hour mark, but his 25-yard shot lacked precision and sailed over the crossbar.
An agitated Brown exchanged words with the referee at the interval after being booked while the match official chose to look the other way following some fierce challenges from the hosts. Nir Bitton was also yellow-carded by the whistler. Before the end, substitute Nadir Ciftci joined them in the book.
The action restarted with the five-in-a-row champions enjoying most of the possession without too much penetration which wouldn’t have been lost on Rodgers.
Eight minutes after the turnaround, substitute McGregor tried to enliven the event with a stinging low drive from 25 yards, but it was too direct and was easily fielded by the Slovenian shotstopper.
On the hour mark, the keeper did well again when Janko forced play down the right and found Dembele unmarked in the box. The new Bhoy first-timed an angled six-yard effort at goal, but it lacked direction and was blocked.
Rodgers made a raft of changes in the 62nd minute as he introduced Mikael Lustig, Emilio Izaguirre, Eoghan O’Connell, Kristoffer Ajer, Tom Rogic, Stuart Armstrong, James Forrest, Patrick Roberts and Nadir Ciftci.
Making way were Janko, Ambrose, Sviatchchenko, Tierney, Brown, Bitton, Christie, Demebele and Griffiths.
In the 65th minute, Aussie international Rogic demonstrated his shooting power from 25 yards, but his elevation was just out.
Roberts came within inches of the breakthrough goal in the 72nd minute when he zipped in a whiplash effort from 30 yards that left keeper Zlatko Hamdonovic helpless, but the ball was just off target.
As the game ticked down, the pace picked up with the Hoops’ substitutes eager to make an impact. Roberts was lively and Forrest sent in a neat left-wing cross which presented an opportunity for Ciftci.
However, the Turkish frontman, from eight yards, glanced his header just wide of the left-hand post.
In the fading moments, a cute pass from Rogic set Izaguirre free inside the box, but the Honduran was wayward with his final ball and it was cleared.
Rogic thundered forward on a 25-yard run and finished with an angled shot, but once again the Slovenian No.1 had the answer as he pushed the ball away for a corner-kick.
Now all eyes are on Gibraltar on Tuesday when the real business kicks in with the intriguing first leg of the Champions League against Lincoln Red Imps.
TEAM: Gordon; Janko (sub: Lustig 62), Ambrose (sub: O’Connell 62), Sviatchenko (sub: Ajer 62), Tierney (sub: Izaguirre 62); Brown (sub: Rogic 62), Johansen (sub: McGregor 26), Bitton (sub: Armstrong 62), Christie (sub: Forrest 62); Dembele (sub: Ciftci 62), Griffiths (sub: Roberts 62).