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RAMBLING THOUGHTS OF A CELTIC SUPPORTER ON THE ASTANA GAME

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Firstly, we got the result we needed and are through to the play-off round. I felt that once we beat Lincoln Red Imps that Astana would be the toughest tie we could have been given in the Champions Route; so whomever we get in the play-off round, I don’t think it will be as tough as the round we have just come through.
 
THE CROWD


By and large, the crowd were right behind the team and from my vantage point in Section 111, the atmosphere was excellent. BUT the malaise of constant criticism of our players; lack of appreciation that a patient passing game has to be played in Europe; and “getting it inta the boax” with Leigh Griffiths as a target man shows a disquiet and lack of appreciation (IMHO) amongst certain (often younger) sections of the support.

 
The time for berating the players certainly isn’t during a tense game where progress to the next stage is crucial. This is a time to get completely behind the team and provide encouragement to EVERY Celtic player on the park. 

There seems to be a nascent requirement (more so than any time in the last 50 years I have been attending) to have a scapegoat cum whipping bhoy on the pitch; in the absence of Efe, this seemed to be split between McGregor and Armstrong last night (wee Jaimsie seemed to get a night off – in more ways than one). 

Let’s get behind the team and leave the recriminations (if there must be any) till after the game either over a pint or on a fan forum, but while doing this, let’s also look at the positive elements of the team!

 
As far as the tactics employed by Celtic went last night, I thought they were intelligent and suited the game. Astana flooded the space in front their goal and made it difficult to break them down; this was further hampered when Paddy Roberts suffered an injury just after 20 minutes. 

In these circumstances intelligent players will keep possession and probe for openings. This leads to square passing, passing backwards and not necessarily pushing forwards.

 The impatience of the crowd and the desire to lump it forward doesn’t create and usually results in losing possession; this is even more of a problem when Lee Griffiths is the lone striker – punting it forward “intae the boax” as is often requested doesn’t lead to anything other than a big solid defence winning the ball!

Rodgers is trying to provide a decent brand of football and his request for the crowd to show some patience will, if heeded, allow the team to develop and produce the results we want.
 
THE TEAM


As stated above, the team played well overall. There were some deficiencies in the middle and Broony was left to do a power of work on his own. Both Armstrong and McGregor have had better games. 
I personally thought Johannsen did well, particularly the two chances he set up for Griffiths early in the second half. 18 months ago this guy was the best midfielder in Scotland; hopefully the new coaching staff can get him back to his best. 
Encouragement from the fans will help. Forrest was direct last night and did enough to keep their full-backs occupied. Roberts didn’t have enough time to make a difference – I hope the injury isn’t too bad!
 
The defence were solid with KT and Saidy both defending and attacking well; both these young men are still raw and learning the game but with the proper coaching and more game time they can be relied upon for a good few years to come.
 Eoighan O’Connell falls into the same bracket and he has given the manager a problem when Sviatchenko, Simunovic and Boyata are fit again. He has earned his place and it will be difficult to leave him out. 
Lustig was reliable as ever, but his age and lack of pace will catch him out against the real top teams. Toure, to me, added calmness and organisation when we went to more of a back 3 last night and never stopped talking and organising when he came on. 
This will help bring on our younger players and make for a more effective back line. Especially in Europe; he also still has a decent turn of pace. 
 The keeper seems to be determined to lose his guaranteed place in the team. He is a magnificent shot-stopper, but his decision making and positioning at times is woeful. The “attempt” to get the ball for their disallowed gaol was worthy of a 16 year old debutant! What was he thinking about with the header? If you are going to come out (I personally thought he should have stayed and let the forward make the shot if he got the ball) make sure you get the ball clear! 
In the same way as you push a ball away from the central area when saving it, the header should have gone to one side or the other and not just right into the mix of players. He then hesitated before trying to get back AND turned his back on the play!  He needs to shape up! If big Efe had made that header last night he would be up on a gibbet at the Tollbooth this morning!
El Griffalo got his goal last night, suffered some heavy abuse and was his usual wind-up self. Missed two chances early on in the second half but kept going as he always does and his wee back-heel for the Mighty Moussa was class. If we could transplant his energy and drive into McGregor, Armstrong and Forrest they would be the players they sometimes threaten to be! 
 Dembele delivered. That simple; he kept his confidence and played the game the way he wants to. He is direct, strong and confident. Great run to win the penalty, linked well with Griffiths and was calm as you like to score under pressure. Great touch by Broony shoving him in front of the standing section to (rightly) soak up the appreciation of the fans. The bhoy will do good!
THE MANAGER


I see a few people questioning his decision to bring Toure on with 30 minutes to go; I thought it was a smart move to be honest. Create a back 3/5 and a midfield 3/5 to allow us to defend in depth when needed and push forward in numbers when appropriate. 
Astana were getting to the stage where they had to come out and score and had made changes to their personnel and shape. Rodgers responded to that and if Gordon hadn’t had brain freeze for their goal 30 seconds later, I’m sure the same detractors would have been lauding it as a great move! 
The manager isn’t afraid to change the shape of his team for each game and is also willing to change tactics and shape during a game to meet the challenge on the field. Ronny Deila had Plan A, Plan A or Plan A. It’s refreshing to see a manager with the tactical nouce to change and adapt according to circumstances.

 

THE REFEREE


Thank God for a decent ref – what a difference that makes. In my opinion, he got the big calls right last night and was firm and assured. He kept control of the game and was brave enough to rightly award a penalty in stoppage time in each half. Didn’t hesitate to book 7 of them and send 2 of them off either. Can someone get him a UK passport please?

 

THE PRESS


Usual  Colin Nish with no real credit for a great result. All the talk of Celtic facing a “nightmare” at 1-1, scraping through, late penalty drama – nothing about the fact that we controlled possession, controlled the game, limited them to a couple of shots.
 BBC Breakfast also stated that they finished with 9 men which made it easier for Celtic. It sticks in their craw that we made it through and this is reflected in their reporting!

 

THE MORNING AFTER


We are in the play-of draw so job done! Roll on Friday so we can see who we will “scrape through” against to get to the Group Stages. KTF!

Written by VFR800 for CQN.

 
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