The fact that it was the small knot of Alloa supporters who found loudest voice as the full-time whistle sounded at Celtic Park last night told all about the Betfred League Cup quarter-final tie to which their team contributed hugely.
The third tier part-timers lacked nothing in terms of application and determination to survive a pounding for almost 84 minutes last night, before tiredness allowed James Forrest to drift in from the right, wriggle past three men to create a gap and then slot a low reverse effort through that and into the corner from 14 yards. As stoppage time approached, Moussa Dembele powered high into the net to make absolutely sure Brendan Rodgers’ side booked their place in tomorrow night’s draw. Yet, Alloa may believe the night could have offered more if referee Alan Muir did had taken sterner action when cautioning Celtic keeper Craig Gordon for cementing Geig Spence just before the break.
There was much deep-breathing from Celtic supporters at the end. A week before, there was much wailing and gnashing from them at the iniquitous nature of football’s inequalities that underpinned their 7-0 pasting against Barcelona last Wednesday. Yet, if they were the budgetary bullied the previous week, last night they were - on paper - much bigger monetary monsters in being matched up to Alloa in the pair’s cup tie.
At £340m, Barcelona’s football spend is around 13 times that of Brendan Rodgers’ men. At £100,000, the wage bill of the part-time Clackmannanshire club visiting the east end of Glasgow for the first time in 34 years is a 250th of the £25m that the Scottish champions invest. Celtic followers may feel sorry for themselves when exposed to the harsh realities of Champions League football but they do not extend much sympathy to clubs from the lower divisions tasked with avoiding skewed scorelines against them.
The first period of the quarter-final may have been overwhelmingly one sided in terms of opportunities and possession but Alloa provided much sterner resistance than Celtic could muster in the Nou Camp. The stunning start that Jack Ross’s men had made to the season - with 10 victories in 11 games to put them top of League One and into the last eight of a national cup - suggested they could just provide token resistance. They did so much more, though.
Granted, Celtic’s profligacy proved their finest friend. Kieran Tierney was unfortunate to see a ferocious drive rattle the crossbar, but there were at least three occasions when Moussa Dembele was fed an opening inside the six-yard area but somehow failed to capitalise on it. His dithering didn’t help on such occasions, but the willingness of Alloa players to put their bodies on the line play a part in preventing the visitors’ goal being breached.
Jack spoke beforehand that his preparations for a game of huge significance had amounted to taking his players through two hours of drills on Monday evening. That is the lot of part-timers who have to squeeze in two night-time sessions across working weeks were they depend on other day jobs for their living.
The overtime they put in last night warranted double-time-and-a-half recompense. The edginess of the crowd as the scoreline remained blanked going into the last 20 minutes was palpable. These anxieties might have been even more deep seated but for referee Muir failing to see a challenge from Craig Gordon on Greig Spence for the red-card offence television pictures suggest it was.
After losing his place to Dorus de Vries, Gordon was restored for the first time in four matches - a quartet of outings in which the Dutchman didn’t exactly impress. The Scotland keeper may have thought he was making a pitch for reclaiming his no.1 status when he resoundingly beat away a long range strike from Spence early on, but when faced with the same player sprinting down the right channel just minutes before the interval. Gordon was both rash and reckless in plunging into the Alloa striker with studs high. He succeeded in going right through him and nowhere near the ball, and the yellow Muir subsequently showed was inadequate for the transgression.
Rodgers’ clearly decided that the showing of a side he had altered notably from the one that drew 2-2 with Inverness Caledonian Thistle at the weekend to end his perfect domestic record was also inadequate. Scott Sinclair came off the bench to replace Patrick Roberts but the pattern of Celtic driving towards the Alloa goal, and then driving any number of efforts everywhere but into the Allo goal continued.
Jozo Simunovic, who made his first start in six months following knee problems, was then sacrificed for Ryan Christie to give the home side greater forward thrust. That was certainly provided by Forrest with the forcing run that effectively settled the tie, before Dembele put a gloss on the scoreline.