That was the latest instalment in a long running series of Behind the Couch Celtic away performances in Europe, with the wonderful exception that after Hapoel Be’er Shiva had us on the rack in the opening period of the second half, Celtic put five at the back and closed the game out without any stressful incidents in the final 15 minutes.
There are a few moments worthy of comment:
Hapoel’s penalty came as a consequence of Celtic pressing high up the field for the first time in the game. The home team dropped deep as they were temporarily reduced to 10 men, but when Celtic pressed high to take advantage of an opponent receiving treatment, they easily passed through us, switched the ball left and gave Saidy Janko his first difficult moment of the night.
More on Saidy in a moment, but we cannot allow teams to pass through us so easily. We should never have been caught so high up field. Our alertness, interceptions and tackling were not good enough. Craig Gordon’s block at the penalty was priceless (or at a price of circa £26m, if you’re being picky).
There’s a reason teams who mark zonally at corner kicks don’t mark the penalty spot. It’s because headers from the penalty spot need to be exceptional in order to beat the keeper. Sahar’s goal wasn’t an exceptional header. It bounced before passing Craig Gordon three feet inside the post. It should never have been a goal, and although Craig’s mistake for the second was more evident, the first was as worrying a goal to concede.
We’re fond of talking about “schoolboy errors” in football but Saidy’s lack of awareness of his direct opponent and goalkeeper at the second goal was a classic error from the 9-year-old’s game. I’ll be generous and say he’s not ready for a game at this level. Craig Gordon doesn’t have a let off for this one, either. While his fullback made a mistake, an alert keeper would have prevented the goal and knocked Saidy into next week. Awareness concerns exist for him too.
Whether it’s Craig’s self-confidence, or that the defence don’t have confidence in him, goalkeeping mistakes came perilously close to seeing us drop out of the Champions League last night.
Not that Craig shoulders all responsibility for what was a weak performance. The middle of the park was experimental and looked it. On the back of one of his best games for Celtic a week ago, Scott Brown’s passing, control and influence was miles off the pace.
Scott, Callum McGregor and Nir Bitton were swamped in midfield. Too few Celtic players were showing for the ball, which was thrown forward aimlessly whenever a Hapoel player closed us down. If central midfield is right, your defensive and goalkeeping frailties are less evident, but we were exposed too often at the back last night. There was a period in the second half when watching on TV made it impossible to know where we were going wrong. After a Hapoel chance, we would see a replay, and before it cut back to live pictures, Celtic had lost possession and were again under pressure. This happened repeatedly. Central midfield was the major problem with the performance, if not the result.
Don’t let any of this dampen your spirits. We’re into the Champions League group stage, a fact which will see us break through the £80m turnover mark for the first time. By comparison, turnover was £51m for 2014-15, the most recent season accounts are available for.
Despite the increase in expenditure this season, we’ll pay our bills without increasing borrowing or selling players. We’re on the circuit again, which means we’ll find it easier to attract talent going forward, it means we’ll find it easier to attract commercial deals and pretty much every KPI at the club will become that bit more attainable.
Last night was a transformational day in the life of your football club. We’re back, enjoy it!