Mystic Mick

He called it, I wasn’t buying it. In the end big Mick was right though. 

Moussa Dembele’s name wasn’t all over this match in terms of minutes on the park. He was the orchestrator of the move which brought about Celtic’s second penalty though which he slotted home nicely to score his first ever goal for the club. 

The big fella came at a small price, but the expectation was high. To date, and bearing in mind it’s only 3rd August, he hasn’t produced anything of note.

Co-commentator on Celtic TV, Stephen McManus, said this match had Dembele’s name written all over it. Just as he said that my mate and I exchanged puzzled glances. 

Throughout the match Big Mick was cramming so many euphemisms into his commentary we were barely holding it together as it was. To come out with this superlative about Dembele just about finished us off.

And so to the game. Celtic looked alive from the start and were making inroads. 

They lost the services of Patrick Roberts midway through the first half. For me this match had his name written all over it, but that all changed when he went off injured.

Celtic’s first goal came courtesy of a stonewall penalty. Kieran Tierney  was chopped down just inside the box and the rookie ref made no hesitation. 

The penalty from Leigh Griffiths was perfect. Not just the finish but the timing of it on the stroke of half-time.

We expected Celtic to come out and finish off the job in second half. Instead we made heavy weather of it and allowed Astana into the game. 

The warning signs were there for Celtic. So when Craig Gordon rushed out of his box to head the ball clear it was no surprise when Agim Ibraimi, one of Celtic’s Maribor tormentors from last season, would pounce upon the gaping goalmouth. 

This equaliser meant the aggregate score was also level on away goals. I was in disbelief that had Celtic found themselves in this position. 

The tie could have and should have been tied up earlier in the game. But no, no Celtic have to do it the hard way!

So the opportunity then arose for someone to step up and be the hero. The thought of extra time and penalties filled me with dread. 

When Moussa Dembele came on in the 75th minute I was so consumed with the unthinkable that I’d dismissed Mystic Mick’s prediction. Then it came like it was written on some stone tablet in Big Mick’s hometown of Lanark.

After some tidy footwork out wide and a neat interchange with Griffiths, Dembele was taken out by enemy number one Igor Shittov. For the second time in the game Astana had given away another cast iron penalty. 

Shittov walked, and not before time either. Dembele stood over the penalty spot in the second minute of injury time and tucked home a brilliant penalty.

If someone had told me before kick off that Celtic would score two penalties I wouldn’t have believed them. As it is I’m still processing Mystic Mick’s prediction!

Now Celtic are in the pot for Friday’s Champions League Playoff draw. The opponents for that round could be Dinamo Zagreb, Ludogorets, FC Copenhagen, Dundalk or Hapoel Be’er Sheva.

Hapoel replaced Legia Warsaw on that list following Olympiakos’ exit at the hands of the Israeli Champions. You could say a bullet dodged but the gun is still very much loaded.

The most important thing is Celtic are through. Now it’s time to open the cheque book and draft in players to play in European competition and move on the rest. 

Hail! Hail! 

Stevie Mac

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Momentum

Since arriving at Celtic, Brendan Rodgers has cut a very calm and patient figure. He hasn’t overreacted to the press or the supporters despite any criticism received or expectations made known.

Instead the new Celtic manager has eased himself into the job whilst dealing with the instant pressures that come with the Celtic job. These pressures consist mainly of assessing a bloated squad, trying to qualify for the Champions League and of course satisfying needy supporters with new players and spectacular football.

None of these targets have been met just yet as it remains an ongoing process for the manager. Changes are taking place incrementally as the summer progresses though.

The squad still requires trimming and we are half way through qualification for the Champions League. There has been an admission from Brendan Rodgers though that the club require about four new players which suggests he has a better idea of his current squad’s capabilities.

There hasn’t been any further news on player exits at the club at senior level thought it emerged yesterday that Scott Allan was on his way to Rotherham. That hasn’t been confirmed yet, but he is one of many midfielders at the club barely seeing the light of day.

Speculation surrounds quite a few though and in order for growth something has to give sooner rather than later. You need space in your squad to allow youth to emerge and if you’re filling your squad with players that won’t play then it’s time for a clear out.

Injuries continue to blight the managers defensive issues but he remains focussed on the task at hand and isn’t showing signs of negativity. This is good because despite being a slow build, everyone at the club appears to be positive.

This evening Celtic host FC Astana in the second leg of the Champions League Third Qualifying Round. Returning to Glasgow with a respectable 1-1 away draw last week has set Brendan Rodgers up nicely for Celtic Park tonight.

Celtic showed great character in that first leg despite receiving some ‘treatment’ from Astana’s players throughout the match. All of which went largely unnoticed by the Italian referee.

To come back from a goal down was a positive response, particularly at this stage in the season and whilst your squad is unsettled. In previous seasons Celtic have benefited from keeping their squad together but this squad will start look very different as the team moves forward.

It all seems relatively quiet right now, but I’m fairly certain that should Celtic progress in Europe the transition will begin to gather momentum. Patience, not at the core of most supporters, appears to be forefront of Brendan Rodgers’ approach.

Celtic will have to invest to progress though. It’s a no brainer.

The club have stumbled in qualifying for the last two years. It was three years ago that the club last made the group phase and by the skin of their teeth.

That team were vastly lacking quality signings. This was reflected in our final standing as we finished rock bottom of our group.

So if Celtic make it past Astana tonight, the signings need to be brought in for the knockout phase, not just the group phase. Moves and changes are immeinent.

Tonight’s lineup should be interesting though as will FC Astana’s attitude. Both teams are up for this but with a noisy Celtic Park there is an opportunity to finish this team off.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac