Honours even

​So Celtic began this Champions League qualifier away from home the way we’re well accustomed to as supporters. Giving away cheap goals is a European trait for the Hoops and goes hand in hand with calamitous defending. 

The goal scored by FC Astana in the 20th minute was an open invitation from a corner. Up stepped Logvinenko to head home the first goal of the game unmarked and unchallenged.

There are a number of areas you can examine for this error. All of which play a role.

Craig Gordon came for the ball and failed to collect it. This was mainly down to the presence of an opponent between himself and the ball.

In that wide open space there was no Celtic player to speak of either. That was why Gordon came for it in the first place.

If this gap was as a result of zonal marking then it was breached. Much criticism has been levelled at Celtic for deploying such a tactic, but it is widely used in the game and this isn’t the first Celtic manager to utilise it either.

It could also be agrued that Eoghan O’Connell wasn’t doing his zonal job. I’ve much confidence in the youngster and if I am being honest, acquitted himself well for the 90 plus minutes played bar a lapse in concentration late on in game and this goal.

FC Astana played it hard and fast from the start though. Celtic were on occasion showing signs of setting up a shot on goal but were disappointing in the last third.

The linkup play was poor in the first half and the midfield weren’t protecting the defence either. I wasn’t totally surprised to see Brendan Rodgers go with Lustig, Ambrose and O’Connell and overall they did a decent job as one unit.

The big change was reshaping the midfield in the second half. Callum McGregor wasn’t at his best and Stuart Armstrong was equally unimpressive before being replaced.

As the second half unfolded, so too did the changes. Moussa Dembele was replaced by Nir Bitton, James Forrest for Armstrong and Tom Rogic for McGregor.

This made a difference and even Scott Brown was getting forward. This was largely due to Bitton’s presence. 

Forrest was getting some joy down the left and Rogic’s linkup play was filling the void. It would be the superb performance of Patrick Roberts though that would help unlock the Astana defence and provide the one shot on target Celtic managed all afternoon.

Following a mix of determination and skill Roberts robbed his marker before playing in Leigh Griffiths. He took one touch – which at the time I thought was one too many – and with the second found its way calmly into the net.

It was a goal Celtic worked hard for and I felt were capable of getting even in the first half. Astana were stunned and Celtic were on the hunt for  winner but with time ticking away it finished a 1-1 draw.

Brendan Rodgers will be pleased with the attitude of his players, especially after going a goal down. With an away goal, a good away performance and a positive response from his squad, the second leg at Celtic Park is looking good for progression.

The job is far from done though. We saw how quickly Astana got forward and Celtic will need to be alert to that on home territory. 

The expectation will be for Celtic to flex their own muscle at Paradise. The stage is set for players to make a name for themselves.

Moussa Dembele, looking almost uninterested at Celtic’s equaliser whilst sat on the bench, should be aiming to break his duck at Celtic Park next week. There are high hopes for the free scoring youngster and where better to do it than in front of your home crowd and help take your club into the next round?

Celtic have done the hard bit and with a depleted defence. They did a good job, even Efe, though many will have overlooked his failure to deal with the square ball that led to Lustig knocking it out for a corner.

The result of that was of course the free header that produced FC Astana’s goal. For now, we have a good away result and by the time Astana come visiting we could have Kolo Toure available for selection.

All in all, a good repsonse. Saturday will see Celtic head out to Dublin to face Barcelona in the International Champions Cup.

It’s another road trip we could do without but it is an opportunity for some players to get a run out. Toure will be one of those players and will help put him in contention for Wednesday.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac 

Strachan v O’Neill: Round 2

When former Celtic managers Gordon Strachan and Martin O’Neill went head to head on their old stomping ground last November, it was Scotland who took all three points. Shaun Maloney, a player for both managers during his club career, scored a terrific goal in that game to keep Scotland on level points with Germany.

With half of the Group D fixtures now played, Scotland will be looking to increase that points total and retain 3rd place in the group to keep the pressure on 1st and 2nd. A victory is not out of the question this evening and personally I don’t think I’ve seen a more confident or competent Scotland team with potential in recent years.

What I find most encouraging though is that this Scotland squad have yet to peak. Generally you won’t get a passionate crescendo from Gordon Strachan but I do see his work ethic coming through.

Influencing the players at his disposal to flourish and flow is not far away. Who knows, we may even see something special in Dublin this evening.

Poland (1st) and Germany (2nd) are odds on to win their games against Georgia (5th) and Gibraltar (6th) respectively. So the importance of this match could not be clearer.

It doesn’t add any more pressure though. Results during group stage qualifying on the international scene can be unpredictable at the best of times.

I doubt many expected Germany to lose to Poland in October or even Wales to beat Belgium on Friday night. Strange things can and will happen as Strachan himself knows as a player and a manager.

The Republic of Ireland have home advantage and the shorter odds going into tonight’s tie. The spirit amongst the Scotland squad right now though is positive.

I have complete faith in Gordon Strachan and what he is trying to achieve. He knows what it is like to wear the Scotland Jersey and was a brilliant player for club and country.

His knowledge of the game goes beyond match day tactics and dressing room pep talks. Strachan’s analysis and perception of football comes across as simplistic and direct but it’s because of his in depth knowledge of fitness and discipline in the game.

The Scotland job is his fifth managerial role but not all jobs have been fortuitous for him. Players can go through a similar experience and sometimes you have to admit that certain relationships just aren’t meant to be.

For me, the Scotland job is ideal for Gordon as it allows him to impart a wide range of experience in a non-complicated manner during a small window of opportunity. International football doesn’t afford you the preparation time club football does so your approach must be effective and efficient.

This current European campaign is an important one for Scotland and so far I cannot complain about their efforts. The challenge of qualifying remains a tough one though and if achieved it would be the first tournament Scotland would have made since France 98 coincidentally.

Tonight’s game could go either way and I’m already on the edge. Let there be no doubt though, Scotland are more than capable of beating the odds and sealing the points.

A third place finish in Group D secures a play off place at the very least. A victory tonight would help Scotland on their way but they are still capable of finishing in the top two.

Poland have yet to lose a game with the only points dropped being against Scotland and Republic of Ireland. Both matches were draws though I’m sure Scotland will feel the happier given that they were away from home and it came off the back of the Pole’s beating Germany three days earlier.

Talking of the Germany, I expect a firm response from the World Champions now. They’ll only get stronger and having played them away early in qualifying, I’m glad the next time Scotland face them will be in Glasgow.

In fact, the same goes for Poland. When that tie comes around it will also be in Glasgow.

A good result tonight will set Gordon and his squad up for the final push in September and October. All eyes are on Dublin this evening!

Hail! Hail!

Stevie