With Legia Warsaw’s vain attempt at being reinstated to the Champions League out of the way, thoughts are now firmly focussed on tonights first leg play-off match in Slovenia. The question many Celtic fans have been asking themselves the past week though is “how will we fair against Maribor?”
Celtic’s fortunes have had a significant change in the last fortnight. It began with UEFA’s investigation into Legia Warsaw’s fielding of an ineligible player and snowballed into two good wins for Ronny Deila in the SPFL and two expected decisions from UEFA and the CAS.
I’m not getting carried away with two SPFL results but the overall attitude displayed by the Celtic players has been much more positive. It’s fair to say that domestic football is not European football, but what I will say is that going into that away game against in Perth, I was not feeling confident.
After shipping six goals against the Polish Champions, I wondered how Deila and his players would respond. When I tuned into that first league match last week, it was a very dire first half.
The second half was much brighter and despite any rub of the green or ‘cheating’, the result was a positive one. I’ve seen Celtic teams in the past with their heads down and the opportunity to win on a platter for them only for it to be an opportunity missed.
Celtic scored three without reply against St Johnstone and never looked back. They took that win back to Celtic Park on Saturday for flag day.
It was Ronny Deila’s first match ever at Paradise. Despite playing twelve matches consisting of friendlies, Champions League qualifiers and one SPFL match, all of those fixtures were on the road.
Saturday’s lucntime game with Dundee United may have been about Fergus unfurling the league flag, but it was also about Celtic coming home and Deila making his home debut as head coach. The opposition were sittung top of the league having played one game more than Celtic and were certainly one of the main threats to Deila’s team but this was a match controlled by Celtic.
Celtic maintained possession, looked lively and gave United a lot to think about. If there were any doubts about how Celtic got a 3-0 win at McDiarmid park in midweek, they were laid to rest with a comprehensive 6-1 mauling of Dundee United.
To score nine and concede one after being beaten in Europe then being reinstated needed a response from the players and they did. By no means do I think that Celtic will walk it from this point on, in fact there is much still to do as Deila has stated, but the players have responded to the early warning signs.
You can have physical ability in abundance to play football but it takes mental strength to overcome the woe of defeat. Celtic were beaten fair and square in Europe over two legs by Legia Warsaw and it was hard to take.
I could argue that Ronny Deila did not have the preparation time or the influx of personnel to execute his game plan. Perhaps he didn’t, but it was enough to see the team past KR Reykjavik.
In the first leg against Legia Warsaw, Celtic started well enough, opening the scoring. What concerned me was how quickly things fell apart in the match and why.
Celtic lost their grip midway through that first half and was further compounded by the red card applied to Efe Ambrose. Ten men were never going to claw their way back into that match and they didn’t, though they were flattered by a 4-1 score line.
Back at Murrayfield there was an opportunity to turn things around with eleven players. Inatead what I saw that evening from my seat in the stadium was a flat lining performance.
It’s fair to say that Legia did their job in sitting in and hitting on the break. And why not, they had the advantage after all?
Still, there was a lack of heart and desire on Celtic’s part. It was as though we’d already given up.
Had it not been for the calamitous error made by Legia Warsaw backroom staff, I wonder how Celtic would have responded. The reprieve Ronny Deila’s players got was a shot in the arm not just because it kept Celtic in Europe, but in it is the competition.
Tomorrow night presents tough challenge for the Celtic Head Coach manager and his players. What has he learned and what have his players learned?
Before the last two league matches I might have been writing off Celtic but I don’t feel that right now. An opportunity has been presented to Celtic so lets make it count and take that Champions League spot.