I’ve had some time to think about last last Tuesday nights game.
It’s always a bad idea to come out all guns blazing in the direct aftermath with an emotional response.
And I’ll be honest my initial reaction was frustration.
The frustration that the team hadn’t rewarded the fans with a long, long overdue home victory in the Champions League group stages. The fact is we didn’t and not only that we didn’t against a very average team who were there for the taking.
Right from the off Celtic looked disjointed. Mikel Lustig played a slack pass out from right back straight into the feet of the opposition and the Belgians, who were deploying a very high pressing line, put the heat on and continued to apply it for most of the first half. Sven Kums should have put them ahead after a few mins. Thankfully his effort was average and Craig Gordon saved. If that had gone in then, well it just doesn’t bear thinking.
The second half was better. Though let’s be honest it couldn’t have gotten much worse than the first. We were more at it in the second stanza and created some decent half chances with Forrest coming close from the edge of the box. Anderlecht’s goal had a massive touch of fortune about it though they were probably due it after Paddy Robert’s fortuitous deflected goal over on their patch secured the points for us that night.
Last Tuesday aside though the fact is that the overall picture in Europe does look pretty grim.
That’s nine home Champions League group stage games with one win and one draw with Wednesday’s loss being our fifth consecutive home defeat and our tenth European home group game – both Champions League and Europa – without a win. We once, of course, held one of the best home records in Europe.
Over our first seven Champions League group stage appearances we played 21 games, winning 15, drawing 5 and losing only one to Barcelona and the returning Henrik Larsson. Of course, we were awful on the road at that same time but could always be guaranteed to get points at home.
Alas, Fortress Parkhead is no more.
To resist such a reality would betray light blues-esque levels of denial.
For me, it’s not just the defeat but the manner of them.
We’ve shipped eight goals at home in this campaign with only one scored.
Last year seven goals at home were conceded with three scored. That’s 15 goals in six matches. Combined with the away games we’ve conceded a pretty incredible 34 goals in 12 group stage games and collected a measly 6 points from 36. It really is eye-watering stuff.
Of course, most of our recent cuffings have been against opposition where we’re effectively bringing a pea shooter to a cruise missile fight in regards to finance and quality of squad personnel. That’s the way of European football right now as big clubs flaunt the laughably enforced FFP regulations set down by UEFA and allow the big leagues to exert increasing influence. I still don’t accept we should be losing seven goals to anybody but at least I can see why it happens.
Last week was different though. This was a team on a similar financial footing to ourselves and who have recorded near identical results to the same opposition. From that perspective, it was a 50/50 game except, unlike last time the Belgian Champions weren’t in disarray off the pitch. And yes I can accept that Celtic’s main objective last night was progression which was ultimately achieved but still there are minuses that cannot be ignored.
For a start fans paying top dollar to watch a pretty insipid display but there’s also the small issue of the €1.5 million lost out on by not winning the game and then the pretty critical aspect that losing the game cost us a seeding in yesterdays Europa League draw and predictably led to us getting pulled out of the hat against one of the most dangerous teams left in the tournament.
Post-European football has been secured and for that we’re grateful but we can still rightly expect that the jersey is treated with respect in regards to the performances being produced by the players wearing it. Some fans point out the incredible run of 67 matches undefeated but that’s neither here nor there. At this stage, Scottish domestic football has about as much relevance to European competition as reserve game results have to the first team’s fortunes.
They’d be as well existing in sperate universes.
If our European dream is to stand a chance of continuing past our visit to St. Petersburg and indeed past the month of February for the first time in 13 years then significant investment is required. The lack of quality in the middle of both defence and midfield has to be addressed.
If not then only a poor Zenit side could spare us from another night of blushes.
The board have to do the right thing and back the manager.
Then hopefully Brendan can truly start building a team worthy of the higher reaches of European football if only just for the purposes of restoring some badly bruised pride and bringing long overdue continental glory nights back to the east end of Glasgow.
Paul Cassidy is looking forward to Zenit … but knows we’ll have to play better than we did last week.