Andrew Smith looks back at a crucial win for Celtic as they continue on their path to the Champions League group stages.
1. Moussa Dembele is brave
The 20-year-old Frenchman hasn’t enjoyed the smoothest start to his Celtic career, a goal having proved elusive in his early outings. That was reflected in the striker finding himself on bench for the deciding leg of the third round qualifier. His introduction came when the tie had been thrown into the balance by an equaliser from the Kazakhstani side and the jitters around Celtic Park were palpable. To then win - with accomplished forward play - and convert - with aplomb - a penalty in the third minute of added time, so sparing his team extra-time and sealing a victory that could prove one of the most significant of the season, took real gumption. His manager may have revealed later the youngster was only performing the penalty duty assigned him, but nonetheless.
2. Rodgers has been as good as his word about his team’s flexibility
Last night Celtic dispensed with the back three they have deployed in earlier European ties and set out in a 4-1-4-1. When Kolo Toure was introduced for Stuart Armstrong in the 61st minute, an extensive reshuffling resulted in Mikael Lustig moving to right-back to accommodate the Ivory Coast international and hitherto right-back Saidy Janko switching to the right of midfield with Stefan Johansen pushing infield. Then Dembele replaced James Forrest, and the 4-1-4-1 became more like a 4-1-3-2. Another one to add to a configuration collection under Rodgers for Celtic that already comprises 4-4-2, 3-5-2, 3-4-3, 3-1-4-2. One of the issues with his predecessor Ronny Deila was that he seemed a slave to 4-2-3-1, and variations therefore. He explained his reasoning as wanting to make players’ roles second nature to them. Yet, that familiarity was two-sided, with Celtic becoming predictable for opponents. They are not now.
3. Kolo can cut it
The 35-year-old had barely been on the pitch for 10 minutes when Junior Kabananga burst down the right channel and made for the penalty area. The Astana did so without a player near him as he had at least 15 yards on Kolo Toure, first to set off in pursuit. Yet, even though the former Liverpool man hadn’t featured in any sort of game since May’s Europa League final, he ate up the yards to close Kabananga down before he reached the penalty area. Toure will get fitter, sharper and leaner, but he showed enough to suggest that he could be the sort of authoritative figure in Celtic’s backline they have desperately lacked in Europe across recent years.
4 Maybe Brendan Rodgers does have the luck of the Irish
When a Kazakhstani journalist asked the Celtic manager if he thought his team were lucky to register a 1-1 in the away leg, Brendan Rodgers as good as said that this came with the territory because, in his words, “I’m Irish”. Celtic deserved to go through over the two legs. To win penalties in added time in each half to book a spot in the playoffs, though, certainly would give the impression Rodgers might be a man to get the rub of the green. Both penalties were warranted, but not all referees would award them in such circumstances. In their playoff last year, Celtic were denied a perfectly good goal to put them in a tie-winning position just before half-time in their 2-0 defeat by Malmo. In that sense, Ronny Deila didn’t seem to carry luck.
5. Leigh Griffiths can come up with the good in Europe
Alright, so he only scored with a penalty last night. Yet, these are missable - as Celtic, and Griffiths himself, have discovered to their cost on occasion. The conversion took his tally in Europe in the past two season to seven goals in only 11 starts and four substitute appearances. Griffiths squandered a couple of openings after he found himself through on goal last night but he now looks capable of scoring whatever environment he is playing in. The task now must be translating that touch for his club on the international stage, where he is still to get off the mark.