THERE was certainly added bite to the Celtic side selected by Ronny Deila last night. All too much gnashing was caused among those rolling up to the east end of Glasgow by the inclusion of leg-gnasher Nadir Ciftci on an evening when the Scottish champions sought to bare their teeth against visitors Qarabag in a season-shaping Champions League qualifier.
What has Ciftci done to deserve a start in such a monumental match, was one of the implorings of a club faithful disquieted by Deila’s decision-making on his strikeforce. What has Leigh Griffiths done to deserve only making the bench for such a monumental match, was the other; a corollary of the first.
In the past three weeks – Ciftci’s Celtic career following his arrival from Dundee United in a £1.5 million deal – the Turkish-born frontman had failed to score in three starts and two substitute appearances. By contrast, from two starts and three substitute appearances in the same five encounters, Griffiths had bagged five goals.
More than the bald stats, Deila’s doggedness in fielding Ciftci – who had started both legs of the previous qualifier against Stjarnan – has puzzled because the 23-year-old has so often looked like a player adjusting his game, and adjusting his body, to a new challenge.
Ciftci is a big bit of lad capable of the sublime because he also possesses soft feet. Since he fronted up at Celtic, there has also seemed to be a fair bit of soft tissue under his New Balance kit.
Celtic, both the club and its supporters, bore us with that Jock Stein line about the Celtic jersey not shrinking to fit inferior players. Sometimes, though, the fibres have to stretch a little to accommodate certain players’, eh, timbre.
Deila’s demands over fitness and body fat was what lay behind Griffiths only emerging as the club’s line-leader in the second half of the Norwegian’s debut season. Yet Ciftci has been given the opportunity to play his way into shape and style without any period of assimilation. That suggests both a bloody-mindedness from Deila and a lack of confidence in the alternative… which takes us back to Griffiths once more.
There is a huge onus on Celtic’s frontline striker in the 4-2-3-1 formation that Deila has made the shape to fit all personnel – and all occasions. Ciftci’s desire to drift into the channels and drop short to get involved and get attacks going, doesn’t always make him look a natural for being the man that must be the principal goal source.
It said everything about how little was developing for him, or equally how little he was able to develop, that his first hearty round of applause came when he almost, yes almost, dug out a corner after some shimmying near the byeline.
His night did improve and an urgency began to be detectable in his play from the start of the second period. A header knocked just wide when in a glorious position provoked roars and grumbles in equal measure. The latter was only prompted by his failure to do more than hook a weak effort towards the Qarabag goalkeeper when the goal appeared to open up for him minutes later. It wasn’t any great surprise that by the 59th minute we were being treated to chants of “Leigh, Leigh, super Leigh” from the home support .
It was, though, something of an eyebrow-raiser when Griffiths appeared ten minutes later to accompany Ciftci rather than replace him. With few signs Celtic had the nous to break Qarabag down, there was a whiff of desperation about the re-jigging that meant an end to the night for Nir Bitton, and Ciftci dropping back to be the middle-man of the three.
Ciftci himself was then sacrificed in the vain pursuit of a goal, with Kris Commons taking his place. He was given a warm reception. Seconds later, Celtic claimed that precious lead through Dedryck Boyata. The two were not related. However, Ciftci, and many of the folk watching him, may have it gnawing at them that this is the sort of thing that happens to Celtic strikers that turn out to be ill-fated. It is, though, early days.