Celtic 0-1 Norwich: Celtic limp towards Europe
REGARDLESS of what the new season might bring – apart from the SPL trophy that is – Celtic will be glad to see the back of this pre-season.
They look in no great shape to compete in the group stages of the Champions League, though non-competitive form can be hideously deceptive, of course. It better be, with a fully-in-their-stride HJK Helsinki in Glasgow for a third round qualifier in Europe’s premier tournament in a week’s time.
Neil Lennon’s men didn’t deserve to lose to their English Premier League opponents but Gary Holt condemned them to that when scoring a minute from time, following up to drill in from close range after Fraser Forster had blocked a Jonathan Howso shot from 20 yards. Yet, Celtic didn’t do an awful lot to win the encounter. Their play was tediously meandering for the most part, as it apparently has been throughout their pre-season.
Which might explain why the have netted in only one of the five games they have played – a 2-1 win over Aalen on their German tour. Celtic now only have the small matter of Saturday’s visit of Inter Milan to give themselves a boost before they face the Finns. On all recent evidence, good luck to them on that. On the back of their 4-0 trouncing in Amsterdam, there was no telling what the first home friendly of the pre-season would bring. Or whether it would be a harbinger of worse to come when Helsinki come calling in surely too few days for Neil Lennon’s liking, irrespective of what he might publicly say.
Not that the Celtic faithful appeared unduly concerned about whatever occurred last night, judging from the numbers who attended, or rather didn’t. The game was the freebie on the club’s season book but even then Celtic Park was a third full and, Green Brigade apart, soulless. However, before anyone should seize on the apathy as an indicator that interest has waned as a new Rangers prepare to start life in the Third Division, it is worth pointing out that the crowd was broadly in line with that which turned out for pre-season friendly at home to Wolves this time last year.
Those supporters who did show, might have wished they hadn’t. The vibrancy of Filip Twardzik in midfield apart, this was plodding fare from both hosts as their visitors. Maybe that will be considered acceptable, in light of the humiliation for Lennon’s men at the weekend.
To avoid any possible repeats, there was no continuation of the back three defensive shape. Yet, there was a vulnerability about Kelvin Wilson even in an orthodox back four, Dylan McGeouch having to clear a goalward
effort following an error from the Englishman.
Perhaps Wilson’s early injury-inspired withdrawal – he lasted 35 minutes before being replaced by Victor Wanyama – excused his efforts.
In a first half that brought a number of casualties, Wilson lasted longer than the man in the opposition ranks whose every touch inevitably brought a cacophony of boos. It must have been odd for Steven Whittaker to find himself at Celtic Park for his first game since being granted temporary Fifa international clearance since he elected not to transfer his contract across to the newco Rangers.
He put in a few teasing balls before he came off worst after a tussle with Emilio Izaguirre 20 minutes in. He limped for a couple more, before receiving treatment.
That pause provided the opportunity for the Green Brigade to commemorate his move from Rangers in song with strains of “Steven walked away”.
Misfortune did come in threes, where the combatants were concered last night, with the first half ending with the conclusion of Lucasz Zaluska’s run-out.
He left the field with he wrapped in bandages after a collision with James Vaughan as the pair challenged for a cross.
Inbetween the medical interludes, first aid for a football contest was provided by Twardzik. His willingness to uleash shots from distance twice had Norwich keeper John Ruddy scrambling. As well as with these zipping efforts, he excelled in linking play through the middle and spotting a pass to put a forward in.
With Daryl Murphy the les than mobile forward, the end result tended to be a desperate dash to fail to prevent a yellow jersey cutting out the danger.
The Czech’s fellow young buy McGeouch faired better in sending away Georgios Samaras – in his first pre-season outing post his Euro 2012 exertions – down the left flank. The big Greek motored away from his marker, drew the keeper, then skewed an effort just wide of the far post.
Kris Commons did the same in one of the precious few goalmouth incidents in the second period controlled by Celtic ahead of Norwich, who changed nine players at the interval, finding the winning goal to remove even the clean sheet from Celtic’s meagre positive’s list.
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Friday 24 May 2013
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