THERE was a general belief that Celtic’s home league crowds might tail off through a lack of competition. They might tail off because of too much competition.
• Celtic 0
• Inverness CT 1: McKay 64
Their latest abject afternoon on their own patch not only brought Inverness Caledonian Thistle a first league win in the east end of Glasgow but meant that Neil Lennon’s side have taken only one point from their past three home games. In all, they have surrendered ten points at Parkhead, and 17 across 14 matches in total. To put that in context, in the whole of last season, they dropped only 21 points.
All of which was not unrelated to Lennon’s remonstrating with some irate fans as another post-Champions League poor show unfolded.
Inverness played Celtic like a fiddle yesterday, the Highland players led into a merry victory jig at the end courtesy of a 64th-minute winner that was the product of clever trickery from Philip Roberts. He completely sold both Adam Matthews and Charlie Mulgrew with a twist and drag back before sending over a low cross Billy McKay had only to get a touch on to divert past Fraser Forster from close range.
As Celtic chased an equaliser, Inverness had the chance to make it 2-0 when, breaking two-on-one, McKay rattled a shot off the crossbar before Celtic’s Efe Ambrose blocked on the line a follow-up shot from Aaron Doran.
Inverness manager Terry Butcher joked about leaving the forward behind if Celtic’s subsequent late pressure had yielded an equaliser and spoiled a day for the annals for him and his team. He was beaming at having a first win as manager at Celtic Park and following up the Scottish Communities League Cup quarter-final victory at Ibrox last month with a double to delight.
“To beat both Glasgow clubs in the same season on their own patch and keep a clean sheet in both matches… We have created history for the club with I think our first SPL win here. We intend to keep on creating
history, and enjoying it.”
With his team now fifth but only three points behind Celtic, Butcher is savouring the Scottish top flight more this season – last week’s 5-1 drubbing at home to Motherwell apart – than any past occasion. “The way the SPL is going everybody can beat everybody else, it’s just a great league. We are talking about reconstruction but flipping ’eck it’s one of the best competitions for a long time, I can’t remember enjoying it as much. The standard of football is good and young players are on show. We are talking about changing [to two leagues of 12] but don’t tell my chairman, I have seen the proposals and I’m not happy with them.”
Lennon, meanwhile, was not unhappy with his team’s commitment, tempo or chance creating but the lack of “quality” in the final third. On a day when Beram Kayal’s performance stood out among the home players, the “wastefulness” in front of goal that Lennon lamented was game-changing in the final ten minutes of the first half. Then both Kris Commons and Mikael Lustig sprayed efforts wide when sent free at the back post, and though with Paddy McCourt sent on for the final 20 minutes, more opportunities came and went, the general level produced by Celtic was all too in keeping with what they have served up in this Rangers-free, Champions League obsessed age.
The main talking point of the first half hour stemmed from a rousing, if not rapturous, round of applause from those within the stadium in the 12th minute as a show of support for their “12th man”, the Green Brigade, absent because of a protest at what they claim to be police harassment. The group are caught between rather preposterous handling by the authorities and some preposterous politicking from within their own ranks. They are not enemies of the state, they are, in the main, naughty little boys.
While hardly at Barcelona decibel levels and, instead, not far off library levels, there was surprisingly little difference in the overall ambience in the stadium with no Green Brigade offering a constant din. They have pledged to continue their protest by boycotting their club’s home Scottish Cup tie against Arbroath. Funny that they don’t intend the action to take in the Champions League tie against Spartak Moscow days later… If Celtic’s home form continues, mass
boycotts of domestic games may become the norm. Home players already seem to be shunning them in any real sense.