Celtic’s final European match of the season was a glimpse of what could have been. Neil Lennon dropped several regulars for a fresher looking approach and it worked.
In what has been a lacklustre few months for the cub, this game was a dead rubber for the fans. Yet, it was an opportunity to those players who came in to prove their worth.
It was refreshing to see application, determination and quality by the starting eleven. There were still a few regulars playing in amongst the rarer sightings of Hazard, Soro, Turnbull and Klimala, but the team looked more alive.
Many will say that there was no pressure in this game. The guys coming in had something prove though and on the European stage too.
Let’s not dismiss Lille either. They were looking for the win in the hope of securing top spot.
The French side were unbeaten in the previous five Group H games, but had never beaten Celtic. Given Celtic’s overall form, Lille may have felt good about their chances.
The response from the home side was good. Albeit, far too late to affect their own European campaign.
Last week, after the draw with St Johnstone, I mentioned that David Turnbull had provided a much need spark when he came off the bench. I also said that in the blog that followed, Lennon should seriously be considering handing out more opportunities to Hazard, Soro, Klimala, Welsh, Henderson, Dembele, Connell and Ralston.
Well, we saw all but three of those guys throughout the 90+ minutes on Thursday and the signs were encouraging. Hazard made a couple of good saves, but was virtually blameless at any of the two goals conceded.
Soro spent the entire evening blocking and tackling in the midfield to great effect. Turnbull was the creative spark, providing a variety of effective moves and deadballs.
Up front, Klimala was the lone striker and although he failed to score, his work rate was better than any Celtic striker I’ve seen all season. Keeping the opposition defence busy is part of a strikers job and he did that very well on the night.
Celtic took the lead through Christopher Jullien. A corner from Turnbull found the head of the Frenchman who glanced it into the net.
Despite making a rare yet costly mistake which led to an equaliser, McGregor was more like a leader on the night. He would eventually make up for his mistake too.
The injury to Frimpong which resulted in a Celtic penalty was taken by McGregor. His demonstration of courage to step forward is the type of leader you want to see from your captain.
He duly converted the spot kick to give Celtic the lead once again. I’m sure it was as relieving as it was celebratory.
I’ve not seen Callum play so confidently all season. His energy, strength and leadership were there to see.
Having lost another equaliser, many of us would have been thinking we were back to the same old Celtic. However, the man who would hug the headlines was the man who put us in front again.
Turnbull latched onto a magnificent piece of play by Ajer down the right hand side to slide home what turned out to be the winner, fifteen minutes from normal time. It was a crowning moment for the ex-Motherwell player.
Over all this was a great game to watch. I haven’t seen Celtic play this well in two halves all season.
The big question now is whether Lennon is prepared to play a similar team at home to Kilmarnock on Sunday? He would do wise to keep that going because at this point he needs winners out there and I saw nothing but winners on Thursday night.
Given the lack of desire in those who he has entrusted to deliver results in this season’s campaign, or at least the combination of players, he can do no worse. I would urge him to stick with these guys because if Sunday’s planned protest is anything to go by, another slump would almost certainly turn this into a baying mob.
Let’s face it, Lennon needs to keep the support sweet right now. I can’t imagine anyone who wasn’t impressed by what they saw against Lille.
We have the spark. We may as well see if it ignites the flame.