JOHN Guidetti’s ninth goal in seven games proved enough to seal Celtic’s fifth consecutive win - but Inverness were left raging that the strike stood.
Scorers: Celtic - Guidetti, 49
AT THE end of an encounter in which Celtic clung on by their fingertips, manager Ronny Deila clasped the face of the goalkeeper who had helped them hang on for the win. The last time Lukasz Zaluska was up so close and personal to someone, he ended up as the victim of an alleged assault.
A fortnight on from that incident in Glasgow’s Ashton Lane, the perennial back-up ’keeper yesterday enjoyed being front and centre of an altogether different story. With Craig Gordon feeling a twinge in his knee, he wasn’t risked ahead of Celtic’s Europa League encounter away to Astra Giurgiu on Thursday. For about 70 minutes of a rare outing, Zaluska wasn’t tested. Then he was to breaking point, but did not yield.
A topsy-turvy confrontation, rarely will have an away team chasing an equaliser at Celtic Park – John Guidetti, naturally, having struck to separate the teams – have created so much in the closing seconds. After John Hughes sent on attacking substitutes and dispensed with his containment policy, the Highland club caused all sorts of mayhem in the Celtic penalty area.
As normal time concluded, Carl Tremarco sent a free header over the bar from right under it. Then Zaluska had to push away a less than clean hit by substitute Billy McKay from close in. In time added on, the Pole seemed to turn circus juggler as he first blocked a Tremarco header then had to double back on himself to claw the ball away as it threatened to bobble behind him.
The commendations from Deila were glowing. Mind you, the Norwegian dispensed plaudits among all his players on the back of a first run of five consecutive wins for the club since January.
“First of all I’m very proud of today,” he said. “That’s been four games in nine days and four victories, and you saw in the end today we got tired. But the first half I think was some of the best play we’ve seen this season. Inverness are hard to play against. I think they’re the best team we’ve faced so far in the Scottish league this season. So I’m happy, and I’m also happy for Lukasz. He’s been working so hard in the past month to get fitter and you can see today the improvement. He got us the three points in the end. When people really want to improve and do the job, and you get these results, that gives me the energy to love my work.”
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Celtic had plenty of energy in the first half, and plenty of waywardness in an around the area. Shots whistled left, right and over the Inverness goal, with Anthony Stokes, in particular, appearing to be shod in banana boots.
Guidetti, after his midweek hat-trick in the 6-0 League Cup quarter-final hammering of Partick Thistle, didn’t have the same impact, but ultimately made the most telling contribution with the only goal in 49 minutes. As Stokes ferried the ball forward, it seemed a better option for him to drive through the middle of the visitors’ defence rather than knock the ball out left to the seemingly well-policed Swede. However, the 22-year-old made a mockery of such thoughts by then turning David Raven inside out, and pulling a shot low beyond Dean Brill at his near post. In that moment, Guidetti took his tally to nine goals in his past seven outings. The inability to convert their dominance over their visitors into more than one goal highlighted the still patchy nature of Celtic’s play. It really should have cost them with the huge momentum shift that Hughes was able to inspire with his team changes on a day when he deserved credit for a smart gameplan that almost paid off. All in the Inverness ranks were adamant it should have done so, as they were convinced referee Craig Thomson made an error in not pulling up Scott Brown for a foul on Danny Williams in the lead-up to Celtic’s goal.
“I was intrigued to see how all the work we put in on the training ground would work out,” Hughes said. “I’m an offensive coach – I like to get players on the ball, pass and play through the lines. But the last time we came here Celtic took us for five so we had to learn. It was all about counter-attack and keeping the shape, frustrating Celtic.
“I was very intrigued to see if all that work would come to fruition and it did. The only time we lost our concentration was at the goal. I thought we were hard done by because I thought it was a foul on Danny Williams. But that’s irrelevant as Celtic went right down the middle and scored. We had Celtic on the back foot and we could have taken something from the game.
“We are a good side, trust me. There is always more than one way to skin a cat but we don’t have to play Celtic every week. I felt we came pretty close today. You need a bit of luck. Celtic had plenty of things whistling past the post. We rode our luck. The one thing we didn’t do was put the ball over the line.”
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