Early days yet…

Victory over St. Johnstone at Celtic Park yesterday afternoon was the kind of response Neil Lennon would have been happy to see. Having witnessed his team cruelly defeated midweek to a very fortunate AC Milan side, a positive domestic result demonstrates good character from his players.

In the past Celtic have suffered domestically following midweek European matches. In the media this is known as a “European hangover” – great journalism.

Win, lose or draw (De Tha Seo? for any Alba viewers) there were often signs of fatigue or negativity. A home win over St. Johnstone may not seem like a tough ask for Celtic, but in the past some of those sides have faltered.

If anything it just shows how far the club have come since Martin O’Neill reignited Celtic’s European presence. To walk away from the San Siro feeling hard done by may seem like a “we’ve been here before” scenario, but Celtic’s performance was credible.

As supporters we’ve seen Celtic pipped to the post on many an occasion but this deafeat felt different. Given the class of opposition in Group H and the budget available to Neil Lennon I’d say there is much to be positive about.

However, don’t rely on the media to tell you this. They’re in a league of their own when it comes to truth and you’ll get no favours either.

Last season Celtic played well throughout the qualifying and group stages of the Champions League. They may have underestimated Juventus in the last sixteen having beaten Barcelona at Celtic Park, but this team continues to progress.

The season before last I said that it was crucial to maintain the same squad. Lennon did that and it was crucial to alst seasons European campaign alone.

Two of those key players from last season have now gone but it was important to retain them at the time. We are where we are now because of what happened back then.

There were some gruelling close season qualifiers to endure. Yet, Celtic still fly the flag for Scottish football.

Group H opposition are no pushovers but Celtic can inflict as much damage at Celtic Park as they can receive on the road. That is an encouraging factor.

Don’t get me wrong, my head was down on Thursday morning. I couldn’t stomach the headlines until Saturday!

I didn’t expect a victory at the San Siro. Having seen the evidence though, Celtic were good enough for a draw at the very least.

Factor that into Neil Lennon’s campaign and there is everything to play for. Don’t expect the media to back up that claim right enough.

I look forward to Lennon proving them wrong.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie

Dublin Heart

Celtic took on Liverpool yesterday for an early evening friendly encounter at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Most friendly ties are either pre-season warm-up’s or PR matches, but when you put two giants like this up against each other its more than just that.

This was the seventh and final friendly of the summer for each club, but Celtic have had to play five competitive matches amongst this pre-season schedule. It was no surprise then that Neil Lennon would make significant changes to freshen things up after some important fixtures of recent.

To see some of Celtic’s young talent get their chance was brilliant and it’s something I would like to see more of. I didn’t expect to see so many fresh faces, but I don’t think anyone watching would be disappointed with effort shown.

There is much praise to be offered to these young lads against an experienced and expensive Liverpool team. Its clubs like Liverpool that can afford to steal players away from Celtic so it was even sweeter to beat them 1-0.

So when I watched these young guys play their heart out in Dublin yesterday evening, it was encouraging to see the potential on show. There were some notable performances from elsewhere in the ranks as well.

Senior players such as Lukasz Zaluska put in a tireless 45 minutes in goal. He has become a forgotten man at Celtic since Fraser Forster became number one.

After his first half performance yesterday though, I would have no doubts about him stepping in because he looked more confident than he has done for some time. Fair enough, it’s a friendly encounter and Liverpool have had no competitive matches so far, but Celtic’s number two goalkeeper plays about as many first team matches as the young players do.

For a team who could possibly have wiped the floor with Celtic then over the ninety plus minutes I would have to say that Celtic can be most pleased with that performance despite over and above scoring the only goal of the game.

The line-up saw Stokes as captain with Lustig, Kayal and Izaguirre as the only real regulars of late. Adam Matthews has barely kicked a ball recently and Tony Watt has been seen playing on the left flank but they played their part as first team players.

Steven Mouyokolo put in a tight performance at the back and will be in contention based on that game alone. Amido Balde kept the Liverpool defence busy and got a goal under his belt as well.

The smallest guy on the park, Dylan McGeouch, showed some promise. After being recaptured after a spell down the Clyde, he demonstrated some of the ability that Lennon felt was worth bringing back to the club.

I am saving all of my praise for the young guys though. They proved themselves against giants as far as I am concerned.

Jackson Irvine looked strong yesterday and his movement and passing was excellent. He did not look out of place amongst the big guys.

His fellow development squad comrades Darnell Fisher, Stuart Findlay and Bahrudin Atajic came on and did not appeared to be phased by the opposition. Paul George and Liam Henderson were late additions but they too can take heart for their inclusion.

All in all, Neil Lennon can be encouraged by what he saw. There is not doubt that what Celtic continues to nurture has the potential to challenge, especially in these prudent times in Scottish Football.

With all of the pre-season now firmly behind Celtic, the next two matches are away from home. By the time they return to Celtic Park, they will have played in Sweden, Ireland, Aberdeen (well, it’s like another country) and Kazakhstan.

In two out of four matches played so far, Celtic have not conceded any goals. They’ll be looking to do the same against Aberdeen on Saturday and Shakhter Karagandy the following Tuesday.

Playing Aberdeen is usually a good watch but Karagandy is new territory for Celtic. Entering into the unknown is something you can expect in Europe these days particularly in these qualifying rounds.

It is still hard to believe that in the “Champions Cup”, the champions are not automatically entered to the he play off round let alone the group phase. This is why the rich clubs get richer and those less financially sound struggle.

Celtic should be proud of what they can do these days though. They are a huge club with a huge heart and a fantastic support around the world.

It was pleasing to hear the BT Sport studio team praise Celtic’s performance yesterday. I cannot say the same for Michael Owen in co-commentary though.

As much as he was a good footballer, his droning summarising was as on a par with David Coulthard’s in Formula One. If he wants to make it in this current role he will need to learn to be impartial as well.

Owen showed slight bias toward Liverpool as one might expect from a former player. That didn’t stop him occasionally take the shine off anything Celtic did, though he did wind his neck in second half.

Well played Celtic.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie