THERE must have been some liquid refreshments of the strongest kind taken by a troop of Celtic supporters that made their way to Murrayfield last night. Nothing less than litres of absinthe, indeed.
Not just any old absinthe, but the ancient variety, containing the wormwood that sent Van Gogh off his nut.
With the exception of a few Pollyannas among the on-line poster community, it was generally accepted that no Celtic follower truly believed Ronny Deila’s side had an earthly of advancing after their 4-1 away defeat by Legia Warsaw.
Yet, about 25 minutes before kick-off, as a clump of fans made their way through the turnstiles, they struck up a chant of “doing a huddle in the Champions League”. The immediate thought was to wonder what team this band were intending to huddle to watch in European football’s foremost club competition this season.
Credit must be given to Celtic’s support for the hope – and nothing else – in their hearts with which so many were willing to go east last night. For Murrayfield had been viewed as much like the task that faced Celtic to make the play-off round of the Champions League qualifiers: too sizeable and too remote.
There were more than 30,000 in the rugby stadium for their club’s mission impossible. And they made a fair old racket in the initial stages considering the calamities of Warsaw, and the fatally feckless nature of their team even second time around. Okay, so the intensity of the atmosphere generated across the opening minutes could never compare to that which the more closed-in cauldron of Celtic Park can serve up on European night.
Some context is required here, though. In the third qualifying stage a year ago, Celtic played host to Elfsborg in a home first leg. The crowd was only 40,000, and they hardly made a squeak. The notion, then, that Celtic played some sort of footballing Russian roulette with their Champions League chances by renting out their home for the Commonwealth Games ceremony to force their Murrayfield decanting has been overstated. They played Russian roulette with their Champions League chances – using a six-barrel revolver with bullets in every chamber – by being so monumentally poor in Warsaw. And no better last night.
Even without Michal Zyro racing in to beat Fraser Forster after 36 minutes, Deila’s side wouldn’t have come close to performing the minor miracle of recording a three-goal winning margin. Not when they did not carve out a clear-cut opportunity across the first half-hour. Considering what was required, that was unforgivable. No wonder the near 3,000 Legia fans could be in carnival mode for the entire evening.
The party, meanwhile, is over for those within the club, and their acolytes, that have become smug over the club’s Moneyball strategy. It will take Deila until next year’s Champions League qualifiers to give any indication of whether he has what it takes to manage Celtic, with the Premiership title still a given. The reshaping of his team will surely now pick up pace, with Southampton reported ready to bid £7m for Forster. Cheaper replacements will create a climate of fear that a downward spiral will be set in motion. Yet, Celtic’s transfer spend and wage bill should have given them all the financial advantages they required to more than live with Legia. That they failed to do so in such abject fashion makes it understandable that supporters are now wondering if Deila is the next Tony Mowbray.
Still, there is always a Europa League play-off to retrieve some form of European football for the season. On the evidence of Celtic’s ineptitude against Legia, good luck to them with that.