Well, that went far better than expected, although we saw one of the more glaring issues raise its ugly head once again; our inability to defend set pieces.
Let’s do the negatives first, because I want to get them over with.
Tonight, they were few and far between and that makes the job easier.
The aforementioned equalising goal was so un-necessary, so stupid to have lost. A few folk have said it was an excellent free kick, and it was, but it’s not one that should beat the whole defence and the keeper. Zonal marking is appallingly dangerous, and Ronny isn’t the first Celtic manager who, for one reason or another, is wedded to it … but you need players with exceptional positional sense to play it, and we ain’t got those, which makes every corner and free kick a lottery.
When are we going to sort this out?
It’s immensely frustrating to watch.
Which brings us to Izzy. He was lucky to stay on the park as long as he did; when he kicked the ball away after conceding a free kick a few minutes before, I had my head in my hands because the red card was inevitable from that moment on.
What else can you say? It was a shocker from them both.
That dispenses with the negatives.
Told you there weren’t many!
There are plenty of positives to take from tonight, most importantly that we’ve gotten a 2-2 draw at a ground where a lot of folk (me included) expected us to really struggle.
Tonight there was little of that disjointed play we’ve seen in recent weeks. The team seemed more focussed, driven, committed to winning the ball when they didn’t have it.
We even had some movement off the ball, which I’d noticed a distinct lack of in recent games.
There are a lot of folk who will say this isn’t a good Ajax team, pointing to their current position in the Dutch league.
I would suggest that if this isn’t a good Ajax team they are well on the way to becoming one; you could see the quality some of their players possess, and the way they move the ball about. There will never be such a thing as a poor Ajax team.
Before the match, anyone would have taken the point with a lot of pleasure.
It’s even more pleasurable that we can actually sit here tonight and curse our luck that this wasn’t an even better night, and an even better result.
I’m also encouraged – perhaps foolishly – by the Fenerbahce result.
Molde have certainly proved they are no mugs, and might well be a cagier proposition than we’d originally anticipated, but the home side obviously aren’t the footballing powerhouse many of us expected, for a side that spent so lavishly in the last transfer window.
There’s clearly a lot of work to be done before we can call ourselves contenders in this group, but there are obviously issues elsewhere too.
There were individual performances tonight which should be looked at; Kris Commons justified his inclusion, and then some.
Nir Bitton continues to impress everyone in the middle of the park. He more and more looks like a standout, the next player we should harbor serious concerns about seeing linked with a move away. If Peter Lawwell wants to do us all a huge favour, this guy has to be retained, on a new, long term contract and the midfield built around him.
Scott Brown harried and harassed them tonight like the player of old, and if Leigh looked a little off the pace it’s because he’s still developing at this level and will surely get there.
It was fantastic to see Lustig get the second goal, but the big man is clearly still struggling with fitness and I worry that he’s doing himself long term damage the longer he puts off getting the rest and treatment he needs.
No-one will never be able to accuse him of not doing everything for the cause, because he goes above and beyond for the Hooped shirt.
I thought our new central defensive partnership did pretty well, and you always worry when two guys who’ve never played together before are being thrown into a game like this one.
Against two very decent front men, they handled the match well.
Which brings me to Efe! I’ve always liked him more than a lot of people in our support; if we put him up for sale tomorrow we’d get £4 million for him without a blink, so highly is he rated in other parts of Europe for the very positive aspects of his game. Tonight he did what he tends to do too often in a Celtic shirt … he came on and had one of his OMG errors right away. But it was the only foot wrong he put. His clearances and headers were essential in that latter part of the game.
A big well done to him for keeping it simple after his shaky start.
When he does that he tends to do it well.
This was a good beginning to the Europa League groups, when the club badly needed a lift.
Now, we move forward, hopefully with a new sense of purpose.
We had wanted signs of life. Tonight we got them.
Much more like it Celtic.