Before we start, let us acknowledge a depressing reality from today’s game; that attendance was poor and a bad reflection on the organisers. There were plenty of Celtic fans there, as you would expect, but the home crowd were largely absent.
As Ange was a Melbourne hero they may – just may – have picked the wrong city.
But actually, this is about the toxic and corrosive effects of two things; a World Cup in close proximity to their part of the world, played at a dreadful time of the year, and plenty of Aussie football fans taking advantage of that fact and the way the EPL towers over all other football in marketing and global reach.
Even with a national icon at the helm of our club we are still pushing a boulder up a hill.
We are making progress, but if Manchester City had rolled into town today, I strongly suspect that fans who gush about the Premiership every week would have come to see them.
That’s a problem we’re going to face in every part of the world where we try to grow our footprint.
Still, when faced with a situation like this all you can do is put your best foot forward and try to put a show on.
We picked a bit of a strange team considering the resources at our disposal and the strangeness of it definitely showed at first. Full credit to Sydney; they played very well, hit the crossbar twice and rocked us on our heels early on.
Even when we scored – a Bernabei shot deflected in by Kyogo – they went up the park and equalised within a few minutes, in the way we sometimes have. They were aggressive and quick, and they plainly wanted a put on a show of their own.
As someone who watches football from all round the world, this was played at the pace and with the attacking intensity of an MLS game. I thought it was a hugely enjoyable opening spell, with the football flowing from one end to the other. The Aussies were particularly good on the counterattack, and their speed caught us again and again.
The first half was characterised, then, by the way our relatively inexperienced midfield – Abildgaard, Ideguchi and Turnbull – lacked sharpness and the key understandings you get when O’Riley and Hatate play. That Callum is also heading back towards fitness will make a huge difference in the second half of the season, and we can look forward to that.
The rash of substitutions at half-time changed the equation, but not, alas, enough to tip the game in our favour.
Our first-choice midfielders came on, and right away you saw a different balance to the side.
Suddenly, they were on the back foot, and we were in the ascendency. Some of the football we played was sensational; at last, the Aussie fans were getting to see the stuff we watch every week.
And yet – and this shows how good the game was – it was Sydney who stormed into the lead, and let’s be honest, the goal was a beauty, a cracking shot from a difficult angle. The question was, could Celtic respond as the Aussies themselves had?
We certainly created enough chances in that first 20 minutes of the second half; the finishing was poor on a couple of occasions though, and as we’ve seen from certain games this season – especially in Europe – when you don’t take your chances you leave yourself vulnerable. The home side were intent on capitalising on our failure to get our noses back in front.
More changes followed .. we got our chance, at last, to see Rocco Vata playing alongside the big guns.
He came on for Kyogo.
Initially this simply highlighted the absence of Giakoumakis, who had not made the squad.
But Vata is a talent, and there are high expectations surrounding him. Still, there is a nagging concern here which will only really be assuaged if we add another striker to the squad, a project I’m sure has to be ongoing for January.
The game started to taper down after the last tranche of substitutions. The pace went out of it, and Sydney put every man behind the ball. In that regard it started to resemble nothing more than the kind of matches we face in the SPL; a packed defence and a Celtic attack trying hard to break it down. The game was no longer as open or as entertaining.
Without a proper cutting edge – no harm to Vata, but he didn’t bring what Kyogo did or what Giakoumakis would have – there was a lot of “hit and hope” about the way we pushed for the equaliser against a well organised defence.
We ran out of ideas in the end, a consequence of poor finishing when we were on top of it and of the Aussies deciding to go all David Martindale on us. There was one interesting development here; Welsh, who wasn’t having a great game, came off after taking a knock, and Bosun Lawel came on. The big ex-Watford guy is rated as a prospect, and they had been pretty furious to lose him … I thought he looked much more composed than Welsh had. He’s one to watch.
The strangeness of watching your team play at 8.45 in the morning added a kind of surreal quality to the experience here.
The result wasn’t what we’d have hoped for, or expected, but there will be no crisis headlines on this blog – although the mainstream media is trying to dress this up as a minor disaster – after losing a mid-season friendly, no matter how it is dressed up as a cup competition. We wouldn’t have been parading this one around Celtic Park either way.
The Australian Tour gets off to a less than brilliant start, but this was never so much about the results as giving the fans a chance to see the team and the manager up close.
Everton are next, at an even more amusing kick-off time, 3.00am.
But as some of our Australian and American fans have reminded me today, what we regard as pretty out there is the norm for them when watching our team. How nice for them to see Celtic at a more normal time.
This would certainly take some getting used to.