By Peter Cassidy
Waving a white flag to a red bull
A miserable night in Glasgow’s east end would end with a huge sigh of relief as Celtic secured a passage into the next round of The Europa League, despite a disappointing defeat, in a place once feared as a European fortress, to a team named after an energy drink.
Despite many fans now desperate to see Ronny Delia do well, and willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, alarm bells were ringing right away when the starting line-up started to filter through to the fans on their way to the stadium. Last year’s player of the season and top goal scorer Kris Commons was yet again left on the bench, a decision that is now seeming more and more of a boardroom decision with impending contract talks coming up, as was man of match from Saturday James Forrest another with experience of playing and scoring in big European nights at Celtic Park. Delia’s only non-loan signing Stefan Scepovic, signed for £2 million in the summer, was also left on the bench and with main man John Guidetti ineligible the Serbian forward must be already wondering, as many of the fans are, if he has any long term future at Celtic.
Instead Delia opted for the un-prolific Anthony Stokes and Leigh Griffiths, the man who Celtic were apparently trying to punt to Hibs just a couple of months ago, to lead the line. Another ominous sign for Scepovic who was hailed as being ready to be the number one forward when he was first paraded to the fans and the media. Many fans have been calling for Griffiths to be given a chance, but despite another hard working performance his lack of quality at this level was clear to see and his lack of composure in front of goal was the difference between Celtic getting at least a point from the game. Another name on the team sheet that hardly filled the Celtic fans with any great confidence was that of Efe Ambrose, who seems to have lost any hint of footballing brain or ability he once had and has become somewhat of a defensive liability.
The early scepticism from the Celtic support was shown not to be unfounded as Red Bull threatened to run a riot in the early stages. The Austrians went two goals up in the first 13 minutes, with a rapid five minute double from Brazilian playmaker Alan, and in all honesty it could have been more as the visitors were coasting and Celtic struggling to get going. A barely half full Celtic Park held its collective heart in its mouth as a free kick from Salzburg, found its way into the back of Craig Gordon’s net, but a third goal deficit was avoided as the ball had somehow found its way through the side netting and was spotted by an eagle eyed 3rd official behind the Celtic goal.
At this point, however the biggest concern for the hoops fans, who have been used to seeing their team defeat big guns such as Barcelona, Man Utd and AC Milan in previous seasons, was avoiding an embarrassing score line that could easily reach five or six. To Celtic’s credit, however, this seemed to give Celtic a wake up call and not long after Stefan Johansen would pounce to make it 2-1.
The second half saw the hoops come out with all guns firing and they really started to take the game to Salzburg who at this point had seemed to down tools with one eye on the next round but despite the possession, goals were hard to come by. Delia turned the screw by making the changes that the crowd was crying out for by putting on Commons and Forrest and the chances were starting to come thick and fast, but the lack of quality in the final 3rd was plain for all see as Griffith wasted the bulk of the chances including a point blank header that went over.
Word soon filtered through that Astra had taken the lead against Zagreb meaning both sides playing at Celtic park would have been throw regardless of the result. This had a clear impact on the game as both teams seemed more and more content with the status quo. With Celtic’s proud European home record in previous years, this attitude is unacceptable, but on the flip side the attitude of the fans who couldn’t be bothered turning up is hardly showing an example to the players who seem to pick up on the blase attitude towards this competition. Despite more chances being made and missed Delia rejected the calls for Scepovic and instead put on another winger in Bulgarian Tonev.
A 3rd Red Bull goal came in injury time and it sealed the victory in a less than vintage European night in Paradise, however, previous results in the section have secured our place in the last 32 and we now have some time to get ourselves in order and bring a bit of consistency to a group of players with a lot of potential. With Mikael Lustig and Jason Denayer back in the team and Guidetti eligible we should be vastly improved when the last 32 kicks off and the further the tournament goes on you would expect the crowds to swell and give us another advantage.
So we should be looking forward to another potential European run with optimism rather than trepidation and in the meantime, we also are sitting top of the league and are still in both domestic cups, including a Scottish Cup tie at Tynecastle at the weekend and a Hampden League Cup semi-final against some young up and coming upstarts from Govan that should be interesting to say that least. So it’s not all doom and gloom for the hoops despite a stuttering start and 2015 is now actually shaping up to be quite an exciting year as we chase a domestic treble and the chance to stamp our reputation back on the continent.
What did you all think of the game?