IT IS difficult to know what to make of Celtic right now. Certainly, Salzburg assistant coach Zsolt Low, whose side host the Glasgow club in a Europa League group opener on Thursday, will have been unsure whether to base judgments on a powerful and dominant first hour or a perilous last half hour.
Scorers: Celtic - Denayer 4; Commons 46; Aberdeen - Goodwillie 60
Maybe the unevenness of a Celtic display ultimately worthy of a 2-1 victory could in part be explained by the lack of game time for the reinforcements featuring in their first competitive game for Ronny Deila. The Norwegian certainly thought so. Maybe, the fact Celtic keeper Craig Gordon latterly was required to get his mitts on the ball plenty in the closing stages owed much to Aberdeen’s strength of character. Their manager Derek McInnes certainly thought so. He was equally convinced that only the failure to be awarded a penalty for a Kris Commons handball ten minutes from time deprived his team of a better outcome.
Yet, McInnes acknowledged that Commons’ impact extended to his footwork. He called the striker “problematic” as “Celtic started with a lot of energy”. The schemer made it 2-0 on the 60-minute mark for his tenth goal in 13 appearances against Aberdeen. When he did so after a thumping drive deflected off Shay Logan and past Jamie Langfield, McInnes admitted his side were second best. If not for long. “Celtic [then] played with confidence and swagger but that soon went when we got the goal back and started causing them a lot of problems,” he said. “I thought they were there for the taking, vulnerable, agitated and nervy. I thought we had enough of that play to get something.”
In reality, the headed effort that brought David Goodwillie his first goal in Aberdeen colours – a Logan cross from the right headed back across goal by Andrew Considine for the striker to nod in – should have belonged to the consolation category.
With Scott Brown restored after the hamstring problems that had kept him out from pre-season, and Commons at his string-pulling best, Celtic went after their visitors with real zeal. The pair’s contributions brought delight to Deila. “[Brown] is a leader and it is fantastic to have him back. In the first ten minutes I just had to start laughing. He was tackling the whole pitch. He is so important for us,” said the Celtic manager, who maintained his team were “fantastic” with their tempo, pressing and passing, for 60 minutes, and “should have killed the game” in that time.
Commons was the architect of such agonies for Aberdeen. It was his corner after four minutes that brought the bagatelle that ended with the visitors’ goal breached. A messy goal, the ball came off Jason Denayer either side of Efe Ambrose shooting for goal, the second unwitting intervention leading to the ball bouncing off the underside of the bar and in. “The first 60 minutes was the best I have seen of Kris this year,” Deila said of the attacker, who smacked the bar with a second-half shot. “He’s working hard, good in training and I think there is even more to go, to get his fitness even better. But he’s a special player.”
Their contributions of Commons and Brown – withdrawn in the 62nd minute after naturally tiring – overshadowed the full debuts from new striker Stefan Scepovic and winger Aleksandar Tonev, and even the bright late cameo from Manchester City on-loan forward John Guidetti. But with his new choices and old Deila sees his team coming together. “The central line today, with Kris and Scott and Stefan [Johansen] and the two central defenders and the goalkeeper was very good today. It makes me happy to see it and I know we are going to have a lot of fun with this team when we get more settled in and get more fitness in.”
The lively frontman Guidetti might provide much of that. Ineligible for the Europa League group stages following his beyond-the-deadline-confirmed temporary move, the Swede certainly sees his link-up with both Celtic, and Commons, as potentially being like hand in glove.
“I felt a good connection with the team and I feel it is going to be a perfect fit,” he said of his half-hour run-out. “[With Kris] it is perfect.
Guidetti admitted he is in an awkward spot because he cannot feature for Celtic in Europe this season unless they progress beyond the group and reach the last 32 stage next year. “It is going to put me in a situation where if the team is fantastic in Europe, the manager is not going to change the team. But this is life.
“Every time I play I will try to do my very best and the Europa League games are very difficult. It’s not like I want us to do badly – I want us to do well and then I have the chance to play later.”
Only if Celtic can start to sustain their performance levels will Guidetti have the opportunity to do that.