A difference of opinion

I started writing this on my way to work yesterday. Once I got there, I read a few Celtic headlines and decided to postpone writing the blog.

When I read Neil Lennon’s post match praise of the team I thought I had been watching a different game altogether. Either that or I must have been more drunk than the hangover suggested.

To confuse matters further, Johan Mjallby was later quoted as saying the team were “utterly abysmal”. He did reserve some praise for the central defence though.

With Kelvin Wilson’s suggested departure, perhaps neither coach wanted to jinx the transfer. That deal has now gone through of course and this will all become confined to history.

The fact is that I, amongst others, felt that this was a poor Celtic performance. We may have progressed but it was a far from convincing ninety-plus minutes.

There was a time when progression in Europe was a distant memory for Celtic. Nowadays, the club find themselves in a situation where Europe is the lifeblood of every season.

Wednesday nights 0-0 against Elfsborg took us into this mornings draw for a play off spot. Now Celtic will face Kazakh side Shakhter Karagandy for a place in the Champions League group stage.

I am pleased that Celtic have made it through to the play offs. The match that finally got us there was anything but pretty though.

Samaras had a golden opportunity early on and Ledley even looked like scoring. At no time did I ever think the team looked comfortable though.

The Celtic midfield were ‘passing’ the ball like a hot potato. Misplaced passes are Celtic of old, not today.

As much as Johan and Neil praised the defence I only felt that one of these players deserved it. Mikael Lustig turned in a great performance in defence and attack down the right flank.

Elsewhere in defence it appeared that the players were all over the place. So it was anything but assured at the back.

Elfsborg were nothing special, but anytime they attacked the Celtic Iooked like they had never played together. That was my major concern.

I’m certain that Neil was trying to keep his comments positive given that the team had just progressed to the next phase. It is the managers job at the end of the day.

As I say though, I am just glad Celtic are through. It may not be the group phase, but I expect more players to come in now that we’re in a safety zone.

We’ve just seen off Wilson, our most improved player last season, so there will need to be a replacement for him now. With any luck Celtic will go for that much awaited striker as well.

Regardless of the coaching staff’s mixed opinions, it would be ridiculous to ignore the performance in Borås. Elfsborg remain unbeaten at home in two years but it is Celtic who are in the Champions League play offs.

The Europa League is guaranteed for the loser. Some may think Celtic will see this one out no problem but I like to keep things realistic.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie

Next stop: Elfsborg Fortress

Whilst one Glasgow club tears itself apart, another prepares for a crucial European tie. Celtic, currently competing in Europe, face Swedish club Elfsborg tomorrow night in the city of Borås, the return leg for Champions League qualification.

The second leg of this tie will be a tense affair for Celtic supporters. I have first hand knowledge.

A slender 1-0 lead means Celtic will need to be on their game. No mess ups, just 100% focus and application.

Without an out and out striker, the team will need to be patient where goals are concerend. There are goal scorers available though and Celtic will be looking to captilise when the ball breaks and opportunities come to bear.

With Samaras travelling and fit, he is likely to start. He is one player that can carve out goals in Europe and away from home.

Its hard to believe sometimes where his Celtic career was a few years back. “Languid” was one word a friend and fellow supporter would use to describe his form of that time – an in-joke that continues to this day within my circle.

Samaras would wander around the field of play with the ball stuck to his feet. The only thing missing back then was where the hell he was going on the park.

Lennon saw something though and remained on his side, regularly stating that he hoped the player would not let him down. You could see Samaras with flashes of ability and Lennon has helped him achieve the status he now has.

Samaras will not be relied upon to do it all himself of course. This is a team game and there will be a concerted effort to defend an attacking Efsborg side looking for that first goal.

Kelvin Wilson is fit and likely to partner Efe Ambrose in central defence. Charlie Mulgrew is also in the frame but unless Ambrose or Wilson are left out, Charlie could find himself on the bench or even deployed in midfield.

It is hard to guess how Lennon will set up though. Flood the midfield and use the channels, or keep it even from back to front?

Your guess is as good as mine. Though the former of the two has worked well in the past.

Rogic, Van Dijk and Boerrigter did not travel so it will be the usual suspects. This squad know each other and know what is at stake.

Elfsborg will feel confident though. A 1-0 deficit, playing the second leg at the Borås Arena and on an artificial surfice they are unbeaten on since September 2011 is positive in them.

However, Celtic have been here before. Few goals, away fixture, Champions League at stake and a  plastic pitch – the Hoops are every bit as capable.

We’ll all be on the edge of our seats. I may find it hard to focus on anything else for the next 24 hours.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie