Job Half Done

Celtic took to the field last night with a place in the UEFA Champions League at stake. That reality of succeed is 90 minutes closer now but the champions of Sweden will have much to say about that next week when the second leg takes place at Celtic Park.

It’s been a long wait to get back to this stage for the Hoops and you can almost hear the Champions League music in the background. For now though, we can reflect on last night’s positive performance.

Away from home in Europe has not always been a happy hunting ground for the Celtic, in fact it’s been more of a jinx at times. Last night though, Celtic hit Helsingborg with a dominant display in the first 20 minutes.

Inside that time Samaras picked out Kris Commons with a lovely left foot cross with Commons connecting on the volley with his left foot and putting it past the helpless Swedish keeper. That set the tone and Celtic’s tails were up from that point on, but the Swede’s came back into the game as Celtic’s early raid weakened and they had to absorb Helsingborg possession.

With the (long overdue) impending departure of Ki to Swansea and the suspension of Wanyama, Celtic still had a strong midfield to choose from. However, neither Kayal nor Brown looked their sharpest on the night.

Brown and Kayal are well short of match fitness and both have had injuries of recent. As the game wore on, their inability to influence the midfield was becoming more apparent but they did what they could.

That began to give Helsingborg the advantage in the middle of the park. It must be said though that the work rate amongst the rest of the team was fantastic.

Helsingborg made a nuisance of themselves though, as Adam Matthews found out, though he did redeem himself immediately. Fraser Forster pulled off some important saves throughout the match as well.

When it mattered, Samaras and Commons got together once more. This time they swapped ‘provider and receiver’ roles and Samaras headed home beautifully from a Commons cross.

Celtic ended the match pressing Helsingborg but at 2-0 it was a solid away result for Neil Lennon and the Bhoy’s. There were few moments of concern in my opinion and the ones that were questionable will be looked at I am sure.

Overall I was really happy with the display away from home. The job is only half done though.

Hail! Hail!

BF, MTH

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Glamour Charity Match or An Injury-Laden Fixture Too Far?

Celtic paid the price last night for their trip to Philadelphia. The fixture had good intentions of course with charity and the heart of the ‘glamour’ friendly, but Dylan McGeough’s broken jaw  may say otherwise.

Every other summer, Celtic have made long haul journey’s to market their good name. I think Peter Lawwell has often referred to it as ‘global brand’.

I can see the point of these matches for the sake of selling jerseys, populating our name and reaching out to ex-pats. It has been said before though, these trips have often taken their toll on the team, especially when the season has or is about to begin.

This wasn’t a great game, it was pretty lightweight but it was a friendly I suppose. I’m not disappointed that we lost 2-0 to Real Madrid, just that when we go to the USA we generally lose.

The irony of that is: do people want to buy shirts and tickets for a team who keep losing before their very eyes? Perhaps I am just a bit too cynical for the marketing world.

If these far away fixtures do indeed reap the rewards then I cannot complain. I just hate the accumulating issues that tend to happen such is McGeough’s broken jaw and the injuries to Daryl Murphy and Anthony Stokes.

I am all too aware that footballers will encounter injuries on the field (or before they even get on!), as Lennon stated last night. When it happens in a friendly though, there is a mild anger that builds from within.

For now I just want the Bhoy’s to get home and take it easy before we taken on the mighty……..Ross County. I can only hope that the benefits for charity and Celtic’s global brand were worth the jet lag.

Hail! Hail!

BF, MTH

A mature performance, from a youthful team

That was how I saw last nights second leg in Helsinki. Better organisation and execution of our game-play away from home in Europe.

The only thing that let us down was the card happy referee. He was too quick to bring out the cards for Celtic players and was uneven-handed throughout.
I’m not suggesting this is the kind of bias we have come know in our native land. This was a home advantage that was clearly evident in the referee’s decision making.

Celtic ploughed on though and carried out with their game plan even after the double yellow Victor received. Right there and then I thought we’d blown it but we didn’t – we got tighter.

This was another step forward for Neil Lennon’s young team. Their development under him is encouraging.

There is no doubt in my mind that HJK are not the best team in the world we could play. In the last few summers though, Europe has not exactly seen the best out if us in qualifying stages.

Is there possibility this could be a coming of age transformation for this team? Only time and results will telly of course, but the next round will have greater challenges in store.

What cannot be denied though is that Lennon is getting somewhere with this squad. There are perhaps two or three players required in each direction to stretch those capabilities further but this team is developing into something better.

I suppose you could say that Lennon is maturing as a manager to. In fact I’ll go a bit further and say that the connection between manager and team are evident in the way that they have grown together.

This kind of relationship may go on to achieve great goals in the future so long as it right people remain in place and the circumstances are good for all parties concerned. In the past I have seen Celtic managers hit a wall terms of progress, inevitability of the Scottish game you might say.

When Lennon was in the running for head coach, I was pretty lukewarm about it. As the days a weeks moved on I eventually realised that ‘there was nobody else’.

Shortly after that I was soon urging Celtic that if Lennon was the out and out choice that we needed to make it long term. No more short stays from experienced managers.

I do hope that this will be a long and fruitful relationship because I do believe in what Lennon is doing for this club. Like all managers he will make questionable decisions but he is a good character, excellent speaker and is passionate about the club.

The next step for Neil are Play-offs in the Champions League. As a player he has been here many times but in terms of management he is a novice.

Much is at stake for the Celtic community here, particularly finance. Celtic will receive more just over £1.5M from UEFA just for reaching play-offs but their are greater rewards at the end of the rainbow.

Although Celtic have cut their cloth well financially, the promise of Champions League football until Christmas gives our everyone a huge lift. There is always the chance you get an awful draw now, but at this stage all teams are unpredictable.

Its an exciting time but the job is only half done. A few more games under our belt, including Real Madrid in the USA, should have us on a better footing.

Whatever name pops out if the plastic ball in Nyon you can bet it will be tougher than HJK. No disrespect to Finland’s most decorated team, they played well enough, but even their season starting in April didn’t do us any harm.

I will take any team at all just as long as we get the result we need. It’s like I said, there are no easy draws at this stage of the Champions League.

Hail! Hail!

BF

Pre-match nerves…

It’s that feeling of anticipation that gets you. The excitement of watching the Hoops in a competitive match for the first time in…

At least that is what I am blaming for my two quick trips to the gents this afternoon. I’m a healthy man these days, or at least I thought I was.

Enough about my health though and the health of ex-SPL clubs. This fixture tonight at Paradise is the real deal for Celtic.

With no further additions to the team we march out as we did last year. With the exception of some players I was glad to see the back of a few of those exiting Celtic Park.

You can fatten your team a bit too much with dross. Personally, I’d rather have a youth player over anything else.

It’s difficult to tell what our line-up would be as its the first competitive match. That said you would place your money on a Forster, Matthews, Izaguirre, Mulgrew, Rogne, Brown, Forrest, Kayal, Wanyama, Samaras and Hooper line up.

However, Lustig, Wilson, Ki and Bangura will all be vying for a place this season. The latter of the four has been largely absent of course but with Commons and Stokes on the sidelines you just never know what you’ll see this season!

Anyway, lets just get behind the team tonight and hopefully we will take a good result back to Helsinki next week. If we don’t, we’ll be sinking in into hell instead!

I’m may have weak bowels, but I love the excitement of the Hoops in Europe! Do us proud tonight lads – I cannot wait!

Hail! Hail!

BF