Moira Gordon: Never a classic but Celtic rightly have last word

Brendan Rodgers urged patience at Parkhead last night.  Picture: SNS.
Brendan Rodgers urged patience at Parkhead last night. Picture: SNS.
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The match had been wrapped up in Belfast. Last night was just a case of making the scoreline look pretty and minus Leigh Griffiths and his scarf tying antics, it was up to Scott Sinclair, Tom Rogic and Stuart Armstrong to put the 
metaphoric bow on things.

In the build-up Brendan Rodgers had warned the Parkhead faithful that they may have to demonstrate a degree of patience, aware how dogged the Northern Ireland side had been in the first leg. And while a fourth-minute Sinclair opener nullified any possibility of a nervous tension being allowed to build, the visitors’ approach was clear. With a minimum of 10 men behind the ball for the vast majority of the match, swamping their own penalty area as they tried to smother attack after attack, they made Celtic work to carve out chances.

With a sit-in campaigners at Faslane would be impressed by, Linfield proved the Celtic boss right. But this was no peace protest. How could it be with so much animosity in the air?

The luminous yellow perimeter of police and stewards who penned in the travelling support served as a necessary precaution. The singsongs were aimed at antagonising but they were the ones who succumbed to frustration first, jostling with their keepers as they struggled to get at rival fans in the wake of the second and third goals.

But if they had been the ones enjoying some target practice on Friday night, as they volleyed bottles, coins and verbals at the Celtic players, the home team got their own back last night, chucking everything at the stodgy Linfield rearguard. They battered at the banks of blue shirts as they tried to breach the backline and get the goals their dominance deserved.

Rodgers had been looking for a more clinical edge to his team’s play, keen to convert plentiful possession into something more tangible as they eye the next round and try to build momentum as they head into another domestic campaign.

Sinclair gave him that in those opening few minutes but it took time to add to that as they struggled to plot a way past their belligerent blue-shirted foes.

It was a wall in front of another wall and Celtic tried to find a way over and a way round but despite the probing, Roy Carroll’s involvement remained remarkable limited, as forays forwards were snuffed out, crosses were cleared and, when space was someone created amid the melee of bodies, efforts were sclaffed.

This wasn’t one of the glamour European nights that will be used to regale future generations or flashed on big screens in years to come, as so many other highlights were in the moments prior to kick-off, but it is the kind of tie that must be negotiated for those magical moments to materialise further down the line.

While there have been slip-ups before, this was never likely to be another impish failing. While there was moments of frustration, this Celtic team are too confident in their own ability to ultimately find a breakthrough, too driven by a desire to improve to give Linfield even a sniff of any kind of hope or encouragement.

Even when David Healy’s men made a rare foray into their hosts half, they were offered nothing but palpitations as Celtic broke away and charged into the unoccupied space. It took until the start of the second half for Rogic to get Celtic’s next goal. It was inevitable, though. As was the third, from Sinclair. Even Armstrong’s fourth. The only surprise, given Celtic’s dominance and their desire to remind their guests who really were the people in this tie is that there were no more.