Tonight we completed a difficult job, and we did it with a professional display.
We maintain a very proud record of not missing out on Group Stage football in the decade since Lennon blew it twice, first against Braga, who turned us over 3-0 at home and who we beat 2-1 at Celtic Park, and then against Utrecht in the Europa League play-off, where they overturned a 2-0 from our home game into a 4-0 rout which humiliated us.
In the end, we lost the league that year by a single point; it was to be Rangers’ last hurrah. The club died before the following season was completed. We know the rest.
It would have been a bad omen to go out of Europe entirely in this the ten in a row campaign. It would have been financially costly as well, and I reckon at least one major player, someone we don’t want to lose, would have departed as a consequence of it.
But we made it.
Sevco did too, joining us in Groups.
That’s not as bad a result as some may think. The article I put up the other day, going over the pros and cons, got some interesting feedback, and although 80% of the respondents felt, as I did, that we should want them to go out, I’ve wondered all along if the 20% weren’t the true pragmatists here. That I was able to find good reasons why I was unconcerned with an outcome where they won the tie is telling in itself; in short, I’m pretty ambivalent about it.
Those six games extra will put some limited cash in their account, but it will also mean that the two clubs face the same challenges, and only one of the squads is built for them. They’ve spent a fortune, they’ve skyrocketed the wage bill and Group Stage income will be a fraction of what it was. I am not weeping my beer as a result of it.
I reckon they still need a major sale to get them to Christmas.
If they don’t get it I think they’re in a bad, bad spot with no easy way through the disaster zone.
The important thing – the only thing that mattered tonight – was that we go through.
The Sevco game could have ended in a ten goal thrashing, but if we’d have gone out this evening would have a total, unmitigated, disaster of epic proportions. We’d have been feeling the shockwaves of it for a long time to come; it would have been measured in blood.
Now all the clowns like Naismith and Co can crawl back under their rocks and put aside their fantasises of a mass exodus from Celtic Park. Lennon said no players would have been sold regardless; we can now take it as read that this squad will not be significantly weakened by a major sale.
Celtic’s team will be ready for the ten in a row challenge.
So what about the game itself?
Overall, I thought we did what we had today without being fancy about it. I’ve actually started to wonder if the performance in Riga wasn’t better than it looked on the night. We didn’t commit too many bodies forward. We took our time. We probed for the openings as we did this evening. We knew were a home team who eventually would have to come at us, and we knew that would open up the space and let us get in about them … we kept our discipline.
Dare I say that if we’d have showed that much discipline over the course of the Ferencvaros game that we might be looking forward to a draw in the Champions League instead? Had we only had the tactical composure to hold a little back, to not chase the winner like kids in a playground, had we only kept on being patient and not pushed every man up the park, we would have won that game. Were the last few games the proof that we’ve learned something after all?
Notable performances tonight would have to include Duffy. He was commanding at the back, barely putting a foot wrong for the whole game. Praise, too, has to go to Frimpong who ran all over the place and covered every blade of grass as you’d expect.
And I was delighted for Eddie, as delighted as I was for all of us, when he popped the ball into the back of the net. Let the critics be silenced. Indeed, let the critics shut their fat useless mouths. When the pressure was on, in our moment of greatest need, he was there as he’s been so many times, to put it away. That’s what the big players do in the big moments.
Except us to get no credit from tonight. It’ll be about how we scraped through and how Gerrard has worked a miracle blah blah blah. When this season ends though, people are going to wonder if this was a critical night and it will prove to be.
Because regardless of what some think, the only way Celtic don’t win ten in a row is if we shoot ourselves in the foot. That is far less likely after this evening. If Lennon gets to keep this squad together – and he almost certainly will now, having publicly avowed to before this kicked off – and even add to it, we’re in as good a shape for a campaign as I can remember.
I am pretty contended this evening. It was a good nights work.
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