Celtic cruised to a comfortable victory in Belfast and have one foot in the next round of the Champions League. Craig Fowler gives his take on the game.
Celtic know their way around a block defence
When you’re a part-time club with attendances roughly the size of Raith Rovers and you’re playing a side who twice put five goals past Rangers last season, there’s no such thing as a full proof gameplan to guarantee victory even if it’s executed flawlessly. In the end, Linfield went for the method used by many Scottish clubs last term, and stuck everyone behind the ball. This time last year it may have had more joy, but Celtic are familiar with such an approach and have the patience to continue playing their way before they break through.
The disappointing thing for the Irish League champions was that Celtic didn’t even have to be all that patient. The Hoops were 2-0 up before they’d even had a clean strike on goal from opening play inside the penalty area. Having looked very well regimented in open play, Linfield suddenly became a disorganised rabble at every set-piece in the first half, and Celtic could have scored more than twice from Leigh Griffiths’ deliveries.
Supporters can actually get bored of going “whey!”
For victorious supporters, it represents the realisation there is only one team winning this game. For the losing side, it’s further indignation. Pass. “Whey!” Pass. “Whey!” Pass, pass. “Whey, whey!”
It’s infectious for the joyous gloaters whenever it starts up. You can’t help but anticipate the completion of every pass, regardless of how insignificant, because it means another “whey!”. Fans never get tired until the move comes to an end... well, usually.
At the end of the first half, Celtic strung together a combination of passes so long that, after a while, even the vocal away support gave up on cheering it. It was a confirmation, if required, that this game was in the palm of Celtic’s hand and they could do as they wished with it. And they would have done, except for...
Roy Carroll has access to the fountain of youth
Linfield earned some plaudits for their second half performance and, in fairness, it was improved. They caused the Celtic back-line more problems, they got in their counterparts’ faces, and tried to make life difficult for the visitors. However, it’s hard to imagine the same praise existing if not for an inspired performance from Roy Carroll. The 39-year-old was in the sort of form which persuaded Manchester United to part with £2.5million for his services back in 2001 - sixteen years ago!
James Forrest, Scott Sinclair, Tom Rogic, Stuart Armstrong, Jonny Hayes, Moussa Dembele, Mikael Lustig, all of them were denied by the veteran custodian, who single-handedly kept the score-line respectable.
Though Linfield will know they have approximately zero chance of going to Celtic Park and getting the result they require next week, the fact that there’s still that tiny, tiny crack of light is enough to keep the players motivated and looking forward to the challenge of going to Parkhead. Otherwise, they would have been thinking of themselves as lambs heading into the lion’s den. Such a shift in mindset won’t influence the direction of the tie, but it could be key to the Belfast side putting in another hard-fought performance which they’ll be proud of.
Celtic fans might want to reconsider their opinion of Scottish referees
If you thought our lads were bad...
Alejandro José Hernández Hernández produced one of the most baffling refereeing decisions in recent memory when he produced a yellow card for Leigh Griffiths after the striker had the audacity to suggest he didn’t feel completely safe taking a corner when someone was trying to cave in his skull with a Buckfast bottle. Referees, in addition to flaking on the rules and infuriating the fans, are supposed to try and protect the players in incidents such as this one.
It’s not even an unusual incident. Such instances occur at grounds across the world and typically the referee stops the game and calls for an increased police presence. He doesn’t book the player for time wasting, especially when the player in question plays for the team constantly on the attack.
Then again, he does officiate in La Liga. He probably thinks a Buckfast bottle is small fry compared to other objects fans could throw.
Celtic will have to watch their discipline
Ok, so Griffiths didn’t deserve his booking, and the referee did get a little card happy towards the end of the game, especially towards those in green and white hoops. The decision to book Stuart Armstrong and not his assailant for the midfielder’s angry reaction to a late challenge, for example, was another poor piece of refereeing. However, to pick up five yellow cards from a game (and tie) of which they were in complete control is a minor mistake which could come back to haunt Celtic in a big way.
Three yellow cards are all that’s required to incur a suspension in the qualifying stages. With still five games remaining, and a lot tougher ones to come than this, they’ll need to keep their discipline in check and not lose any of their best players for crunch fixtures down the line.