For Celtic fans short on time – watch the first 7 minutes of the game – we were magnificent – we put on a show of flawless passes, attacking football, punctuated by a beautiful goal…pretty much after that it was all downhill. We did get the 3 points, but it was ugly.
Season/pre-season for Celtic has been brutal to see. The suits in the boardroom are resting easy on a big fat pile of money, while we’re being told, ‘Be patient, it’s a re-building year, we’ve a genius new manager and hot young players eager to prove themselves on the park…’ All great soundbites for the media….the fans are thinking quite the opposite.
Celtic fans are disheartened at becoming a feeder club for the EPL; money in the bank is good, but if you lose your best players/stop playing attractive football, you lose the confidence of the fans, and, more importantly, bums in the seats….tonight, the upper stands were empty; in years gone by, European tickets were a rare species to be hunted down and paid for in blood.
Fans are questioning the merits of Ronny Della; we know a new manager takes time to settle and find his players’ strengths and weaknesses – but still – it doesn’t matter what grand vision you have if you can’t make the guys on the field get it and do it. Sometimes I feel his team selection is by pulling numbers out a hat. And the players – this season, I believe, the only 2 worthy of a Celtic jersey are McGregor – bright star ready to explode – I’m sure he’ll be off next summer if he scores a few more on an international front, although he didn’t even make it onto the bench tonight! – and Gordon; he was my man of the match tonight; without him, we would be sitting on another 5 goal hiding.
Anyway – the game – we started well – loved the opening minutes – the goal came from Commons, after a great pass from Stokes – it was low, hard, and on target; once we got that goal, the team seemed to breathe a collective sigh of relief and all sense of urgency from Celtic was pretty much gone. This was baffling to all 10 of us watching the game in the pub (Joxer Daly’s in Los Angeles – home of the city’s Celtic Supporter’s Club) Della seemed non-plussed – Lenny or Martin would have been bouncing along the touchline sending fire and curses onto the park.
For much of the first half, it was a game of kickabout in mid-field with no clear chances by either side, no bad tackles, no theatrics, not much of any interest, even the crowd seemed bored into silence.
In 27th minute, I think Gordon got his first touch of the ball – Zagreb were buoyed by the effort and stepped up a few gears – we continued in bicycle by the beach mode – it was obvious who wanted the win more – luckily for us Gordon had a brilliant game. In 31st minute, Commons was gifted with an open goal, after their goalie fumbled the ball – didn’t even take a shot. There was quite a bit of swearing at the telly by everyone in the pub. Do players not both with target practice in training? (If I was in charge, I’d have players running down the wings and just shooting for the goal while moving; most of the chances in Europe come from split second timing and the balls/confidence just to go for it.) We were also questioning whether Irn Bru and crisps should be allowed back in the dressing room.
Zagreb stepped up yet another gear coming up to half-time but couldn’t get past Gordon. Celtic players were mimicking plastic Subbuteo figures, having a difficult time turning, passing, and reacting. At this point in the game, our attention drifted over to a car chase happening live on an LA freeway, such was the level of dross on the park.
During half-time, the truck being chased flew off the freeway, down an embankment, and landed on the driver side; we thought he had to be dead, but he climbed out and walked up the hill to be arrested! After the gorgeous goal – that was the most exciting thing we saw on the telly.
The second half was more a matter of hoping the whistle would blow soon before our luck ran out. It was scrappy, ugly, annoying and frustrating to watch. The conversation in the pub, between us Celtic fans, turned to Della’s tactics, or lack thereof, his rotating team selection, and new official Celtic training regime. Also, the ineptitude of the SFA, the board choosing not to replenish the magic on the pitch we lost over the summers, (We really missed McGregor – that young man has guile, talent and imagination – something lacking in most of our squad.) and how humiliated we’d have been if we’d made it into Champion’s League, but how much we miss the tune being drowned out by Celtic fans blasting out You’ll Never Walk Alone during the Huddle.
So the game limped along, with a flurries of activity – if you imagine a blind snooker player hitting balls all over the place but not knowing where to aim them. As the minutes counted down, Zagreb hit us with corner after corner, but they couldn’t put the ball away.
So – we won – 3 points – top of the table – we’re on the road again…and I think, as hapless and hopeless as we’re performing, we stand a chance of being in Europe after Christmas, where I would love a chance to crucify Legia Warsaw, if they make it that far. But the players need to start reading and trusting each other, need target practice, get their love and passion for the Celtic Jersey back, and we need a manager who understands the gifts of his players, helps them bring out their best, and inspire them to unite as a team – one body with a common goal – channel big Jock. You can’t create something from nothing…without a miracle….and Della is no saint….
For the official UEFA report with the stats check out http://www.uefa.com/uefaeuropaleague/season=2015/matches/round=2000587/match=2014462/postmatch/report/index.html?autoplay=true&vid=2140900
or the official party line at Celtic FC http://www.celticfc.net/news/6795