JUST five days before their first competitive match of the season in the all-important Champions League qualifier against Cliftonville in Belfast, Celtic have not recorded a victory in their pre-season programme.
Scorers: Terodde 12, Brandy 55, Kreilach 87
A 3-0 defeat by German second division side Union Berlin will not go down well with their supporters, but there were at least some encouraging signs that their heroes are becoming more match sharp by the game. Add in the fine displays by youngsters Jackson Irvine, Tom Rogic and Mikey Miller and manager Neil Lennon will not have been too disappointed with the night’s work.
Lennon’s men had not won a match on their pre-season Continental tour before last night. Sevastapol of the Ukraine, Romanian side Cluj and another German second division outfit, Greuther Furth, had all taken the scalp of the Scottish champions, the latter putting six goals past a very shaky Celtic defence.
Celtic never really looked like correcting that record last night in a match to mark the opening of the main stand and official completion of Union Berlin’s An der Alten Forsterei stadium. That’s a remarkable story in itself, since thousands of fans worked unpaid on the project, and a raucous capacity crowd of just over 18,000 created an atmosphere which in itself made the match much more competitive than most friendlies.
After a couple of early corners to the home side, and with Celtic making absolutely no headway up front, Union took an 11th-minute lead, the chief surprise being that Fraser Forster, easily the man of the tour hitherto, completely misinterpreted the flight of Simon Terodde’s superbly struck snapshot volley from the edge of the box. Kelvin Wilson could have put more pressure on the scorer, but take nothing away from the goalscorer as it was a class effort.
The goal sparked a reaction from Celtic in that they became more composed and organised, captain Scott Brown’s return ensuring that the midfield was at least combative. How they will miss Victor Wanyama in that department, the big fellow’s absence an obvious loss in this pre-season tour.
At the back, Irvine and Wilson formed a solid partnership, the 20-year-old Australian looking very composed on the ball, as did the other Aussie in the team, midfielder Tom Rogic.
After 24 minutes, Forster kept his eye firmly on another volley, this time a spectacular effort by Martin Dausch off a knockdown by Soren Brandy, and the goalkeeper parried the ball away firmly.
Celtic had not had a shot on goal in the first half hour when Kris Commons won a corner, taking it himself and finding Giorgios Samaras whose effort was turned away.
Towards the end of the half, Celtic began to exert considerable pressure on their well-organised and technically sound hosts, and after Fabian Schonheim headed just over his own bar, Mikael Lustig headed the resultant corner narrowly wide.
At half time, Celtic sent on youngster Mikey Miller in place of Mikael Lustig at right-back, and more substitutions unsettled the side later on, but Lennon had said he would use these games to get players fit and to experiment, and he has stuck to the plan.
Ten minutes into a Celtic-dominated second half, a sucker punch gave Union a second goal. The SPL champions looked to have cleared the danger but the ball was knocked back in over the heads of a static defence and Soren Brandy reacted first to knock the ball past Forster.
After Irvine was booked for a foul in which television replays showed he made no contact, Marc Pfertzel looked to have put Union further ahead but he was correctly adjudged to have been offside.
Celtic searched constantly for a way back into the game, and Anthony Stokes had a shot deflected wide on 64 minutes before Irvine’s goalbound header from the corner was punched away by Daniel Haas.
Stokes’ 68th minute shot was saved by Haas before Rogic fired one just wide from distance. Union were content to soak up the pressure and hit on the break, and three minutes from time they gained a third with the Celtic defence again caught napping, Damir Kreilach heading home Dausch’s pinpoint cross.
It will perhaps worry Lennon that his side is conceding an average of three goals a game, but if he gets it right against Cliftonville, all will be forgiven and forgotten.