After the draw with Stade Rennais, Celtic have beaten Kilmarnock (league) and Partick Thistle (cup) at home whilst dropping their first league points of the season away to Hibernian last Sunday. Attention now turns to a match with much significance.
This evening, CFR Cluj return to Celtic Park for the second time in a matter of weeks. Similar to last season, when Celtic faced Rosenborg in both UEFA club tournaments, they are also facing the Romanian champions in both competitions.
The key difference is the significance of the previous meeting between Neil Lennon and Dan Petrescu’s side’s. Celtic’s one sole loss of the season thus far occurred on that summer evening in Glasgow in August – or afternoon as it was for me in Canada at the time.
Having drawn 1-1 in Romania during the first leg, winning the tie at Celtic Park looked good. Cluj were capable, but not that impressive on their own turf.
However, they were fired up for the tie in Glasgow and played pretty much the same way. Where Celtic came undone was through their own mistakes.
The most noticeable thing prior to kick off in that second leg, was the starting eleven. Neil Lennon chose to play Callum McGregor at left back, stating that he wanted his best technicians playing and this was the only way he could accommodate the Scottish international and his team mate, Olivier Ntcham.
Of course, many believed he had dropped Boli Bolingoli because he had lost faith in the Belgian. In fact, there were rumours that Lennon hadn’t even approved the signing of the left back or his team mate Christopher Jullien.
I never bought into that final part, but it was a contentions issue that he chose to leave both of new signings out of the starting eleven. Especially in such an important home game.
Whilst the blame does not fall entirely upon Callum McGregor, his selection at left back and the absence of two new fit signings was the early concern. Like the first leg, Celtic lost the opening goal to Cluj.
McGregor was out-jumped to a cross ball which was headed in off the post by Ciprian Deac. The entire move was preventable.
If the team selection wasn’t a focal point for everyone, then it was now. McGregor, one of our best midfielders, last played at left back in the defeat at Ibrox in December 2018.
That was a mistake by Brendan Rodgers. This was a mistake by Neil Lennon.
The goal could have been avoided before McGregor lost out to Deac. The opportunity and goal set the tone for a poor first half.
Celtic eventually drew level five minutes after half time courtesy of James Forrest. McGregor provided the assist and Odsonne Edouard dummied it, allowing the winger to fire home.
1-1 on the night, 2-2 over all. All square.
Edouard followed up with a second goal eleven minutes later after receiving a cross from Hatem Elhamed. For the first time over the two legs, Celtic were in the lead.
Game on. It’s fair to say that Celtic were now beginning to tick.
They had had early second half chances cleared off the line. Now they had scored two cracking goals to take lead.
Victory was looking good. Then disaster struck.
A moment of madness from our club captain. Cluj had a corner come in from the left which drifted to the far side of the box which for some bizarre reason Scott Brown chose to throw his hand at.
The resultant penalty was dispatched by Billel Omrani. The tie was level on goals, but now Cluj had the away goals advantage.
Just when it was looking grim Ryan Christie received a pass from Edouard and calmly slid home to make it 3-2 on the night. Celtic were back in the game again within just two minutes.
Could it have been more dramatic? Yes.
Six minutes after Christie looked to have saved his captain’s blushes, Cluj punished Celtic again. This time it was Scott Bain who made an error.
Having parried Constantin Paun’s shot, it fell to the player closest to the ball. That man’s name was Omrani and he tucked it away with ten minutes remaining.
The drama was not over of course. We had hoped that it would be the kind of dramtic ending to a game that would be a happy one.
By this point I was close to heart failure as I watched the Bhoys fight for Champions League qualification. In the end it was Cluj who would have the final say in how the tie unfolded.
George Tucudean scored Cluj’s fourth goal to make it a 3-4 victory on the night and a 4-5 win over the two legs. It was the last kick of the ball.
It truly was one of the craziest matches I’ve watched. The self inflicted wounds hurt us badly, but Cluj showed determination and scored four goals at Celtic Park which is not to be sniffed at.
Were there faults by the manager? Yes.
Were there faults by the players? Yes.
Now there is an opportunity to right those wrongs. I wouldn’t dare underestimate Cluj.
They beat Lazio in Romania on match day one of the Europa League group stage. Lazio may not be the best Italian club these days, but you cannot discount a side who still possess rich talent.
I’d like to think that Celtic can get wins in all three of our home ties. Tonight that there is a chance to exorcise that defeat to Cluj almost two months ago.
We were all bitterly disappointed. At the time, Neil Lennon was very calm about it and felt that hysteria was in full flow.
And we were, quite rightly hysterical. He was also correct though that it was a freak result and since he started putting his own mark on the team we have been moving in the right direction.
I am enjoying the football under Lennon again. I had my reservations and there have been one or two turgid performances, but I like what I am seeing over all.
The big question is will we produce the goods tonight? We have to believe that we will.
I think the task for Neil Lennon to come back to the club and reenergise matters was a huge task. I think so far he has done well.
Tonight will be a test for him and his players. We can’t afford to make mistakes.
In Europe errors are costly. You don’t get any favours from officials either and you are playing against them as much as the elven blokes in different colours.
This is actually one of the best chances Celtic might have to win a group stage. I really mean that.
I just want to see the Bhoys go out there and show their class. We have the players.
Do we have the balls? We’ll find out tonight.