Celtic made the play-off round of the Europa League last night right at the death of regulation time. I had feared we would make heavy weather of this one and I wasn’t wrong.
Neil Lennon set up with one striker and packed his midfield against the Latvian champions. He then lost James Forrest in the 34th minute to injury and was replaced by Jeremie Frimpong.
He made an instant impact in defence and attack. Numerous chances came and went, but despite a 70/30 domination in Celtic’s favour they were unable to penetrate the tightly packed Riga set up effectively.
It took the effervescence of Frimpong to make the breakthrough in the 90th minute. He had already been up and down that right flank since is unscheduled replacement of Forrest.
This wasn’t the first time the Dutch youngster had hit the by line and cut it back either. However, he had Mohamed Elyounoussi off the bench just eight minutes earlier and he wasn’t so wasteful as everyone else had been.
As relief washed over Celtic, a further five minutes were played before the Portuguese official blew the final whistle. Celtic now face an away tie against FK Sarajevo.
Last season, Celtic beat this side 3-1 away and 2-1 at home in the First Qualifying Round of the Champions League. I had no reservations about overcoming that side, but our ongoing struggle against so-called minnows is a concern.
Neil Lennon doesn’t seem to have an answer to teams who sit in deep. We can’t carve open their defences and playing one up front probably isn’t helping either.
I’m no football manager, but if you have all that possession you have to do something with it. Odsonne Edouard had zero joy all night and despite another tireless display by Ryan Christie, even he struggled to find a through ball or the net.
Greg Taylor was involved heavily down the left flank for the majority of the match. A little bit more creativity was called for though as he often didn’t find anyone on the end of his crosses or cutbacks when indeed he managed one.
Neil Lennon got the club to fork out for another season long loan of Elyounoussi, but he’s been warming the bench for the last four games. I think Celtic could have done with some of his direct play given how stubborn Riga were being.
Celtic held the midfield with Scott Brown covering the back three, Olivier Ntcham and Callum McGregor keeping the ball moving and Christie trying to find a gap. The only thing that was working was our possession.
The wing backs did do their job, but it was Frimpong who stood out the most. He was the difference on the night.
Thankfully it was the movement of Elyounoussi who found that cross. Edouard was static most of the night and Ajeti had only been plugging away for ten minutes before he eventualy linked up with his former FC Basel team mate in attack.
Neil Lennon has to decide from here on in how to set up his side in the future. It will have to be adjusted according to our opponents, but right now we seem to be chopping and changing with little or no effect.
We’re still less than a quarter of the way through the season’s domestic fixtures, but we haven’t quite found our rhythm yet. The transfer window closes in just over a week and we’ll be hoping to hang on to all of our players and hopefully bring in one or two more.
I think once that window shuts things will settle down. So much speculation has surrounded our top players.
It may be the reason for our erratic form or it may be something else entirely. Whoever this sports psychologist is the club have brought in, it will hopefully be of some assistance.
This is a huge season and Celtic will have to do it without any live support. One thing is for sure, we need to get our mojo back in time for the play-offs next week.
As predicted, only two Scottish clubs made it there in the end. Motherwell were swept aside by Hapoel Be’er Sheva 3-0 and Aberdeen lost just 1-0 to Sporting Lisbon.
Rangers won 4-0 against Dutch side Willem II. They will now face former holders of this trophy, Galatasaray, at Ibrox.
It means that for at least one more week, Celtic and Rangers will have the same distraction away from domestic competition. For now though, it will be back to the SPFL battle on Sunday.