Celtic 1-0 Aberdeen: Comedy of errors enlivens Parkhead flag day
IF EVER a day illustrated the monstrous importance to Celtic of European football, and more pointedly the Helsinki return leg of their Champions League qualifier in two days, it was Saturday’s Scottish Premier League opener in the east end of Glasgow.
The desperate need for competition on the continent goes beyond the fact that nothing worthy of that name will exist for the champions with the old Rangers gone.
The “flatness” that manager Neil Lennon acknowledged had blunted his side, and which left them requiring a buttock-clenching bloomer from Aberdeen keeper Jamie Langfield to allow Kris Commons to net a late winner, may indeed have had much to do with the exertions in beating the Finns 2-1 days earlier.
Equally, though, it may have been down in no small part to the decrease in numbers and seeming disengagement of the crowd attending Celtic Park. This isn’t simply about Celtic having no must-win games. Effectively they didn’t have any in 2003-4 when they won the league courtesy of a record 25 consecutive league victories and were presented so little threat by Rangers they posted five straight wins over them. What Celtic did then possess were players that punters would happily go along to watch taking five and six goals off opponents.
Of course, they cannot afford such types any more, with back then Henrik Larsson, Chris Sutton and John Hartson dishing out the punishment. However, the fact that they are unable to afford any types, as much as the absence of rivalry, is a major reason why Celtic Park was 12,000 shy of capacity for a smallest flag-day crowd since 1988.
Adam Matthews and Victor Wanyama were the most recent arrivals to Celtic in the club’s starting line-up at the weekend, and both are in their second seasons. Without the cash injection of Champions League football for three seasons, Celtic have worked fiscal wonders to reshape the team, shave debt and essentially win the war with their former adversaries.
However, it was chief executive Peter Lawwell who coined the phrase “marquee signings”, and without any of these, or any other new faces, the Celtic experience will become stale for punters reluctant to part with season ticket money.
Lennon has admitted that any squad needs “a jag” now and that comes with bringing in a new body and he better hope his team are jolted from the torpor of the other day come Wednesday.
They certainly missed the energy of Scott Brown, out with a hip injury that may require an injection to allow him to return for the Champions League assignment, the pace of the rested James Forrest, and the creativity offered from the back by the suspended Charlie Mulgrew.
In their absence, Commons proved the solitary schemer, three shots from the attacker the only on target across the entire afternoon. The fact a mishit one of these in 79 minutes, which followed a short corner from the left he had returned to him by Matthews, found the net owed more to the flawed goalkeeping of Langfield than his own artistry.
Aberdeen manager Craig Brown, publicly at least, cursed his team for not being alert at the set-piece rather than the error of Langfield, who inexplicably allowed a passback-like effort to slip beyond his outstretched hands as he bent down to collect at his near post. Until that point, the visitors’ gameplan of largely nullifying Celtic had proved largely effective.
Brown has been criticised for showing little ambition beyond goal prevention – few balls of any note reaching debutant and lone central striker Niall McGinn – but he was right to defend his tactics.
In experienced campaigners Russell Anderson and Gary Naysmith he has men at the back who will bring solidity to a team who have painfully lacked such a quality in recent seasons when relegation has been all too often the preoccupation.
Assuming the pair can avoid the prolonged injury absences that have blighted their careers, and in the quicksilver McGinn and Johnny Hayes, they surely have players who will allow them to offer more going forward when let off the leash. Notions that they could potentially be challengers for second place weren’t enhanced by their niggardly approach at the weekend, however.
Celtic need have no concerns over finishing, but to ensure that their supporters turn up to watch a procession they must offer them a better prospect of entertainment. Lennon insisted that Saturday was the classic European hangover following the “euphoria” of the Champions League tie that, notably, was played out in front of a full house and a frenetic atmosphere. There won’t be many more such occasions.
But if there aren’t at least four in midweeks between now and December, wherein Celtic supporters are being treated to a new centre-back and a new striker making their way at the club, even the faithful who do turn up for SPL matchdays at Celtic Park may go out of a sense of duty rather than desire.
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Sunday 19 May 2013
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