Riga’s only domestic points dropped this season came in a defeat on match day two of the Latvian league. Since then, they have recorded 18 wins in 19 outings; the only reversal came away to Maccabi Tel Aviv in Champions League qualification. Impressive, though a run of 17 consecutive domestic wins and one in the Europa League is, such riches do not harden you for tougher challenges, as Celtic have learned to their cost.
Last season, they eliminated Dundalk from Champions League qualification on penalties, then recorded impressive away goals wins over Polish side Piast Gliwice and HJK Helsinki before succumbing 3-2 on aggregate to Copenhagen in the playoff round. The Danes recorded a better result against Celtic later in the competition.
Riga were formed five years ago after a merger of two clubs. They are on their 15th manager since, none have lasted a year. With 7.5 months tenure, current boss, Russian Oleg Kononov, will be looking over his shoulder if he does not get a result tonight. If he looks like there is an edge to him, that’s why.
Neil Lennon’s tenure is more assured, but, if anything, the stakes are higher for Celtic, whose prevailing business model has precious few strands left, with fans forced to watch games at home and in pubs, instead of being distanced in the wide-open spaces of Celtic Park. The most positive consideration is that having gotten so many things wrong already this season, we know where our soft underbelly is.
You are not going to hear this often from me, I’m not even sure how to start. All four Scottish clubs involved in Europe are away from home tonight, it suits our purpose for all to proceed. In what could be a tight and curtailed season, where squads could be hit by isolation rules, it will not help for any direct rival to have a full week to prepare for games – whether we are involved in Europe or not.
We have the strongest squad, best manager and are by far the best run club in Scotland. Under normal circumstances, 10-in-a-row would be straightforward, but so much of what lies ahead between now and May is unknown. I don’t want to anyone else having a week off to prepare for their Premiership game.
Normal elimination preferences will resume next season.