Celtic accentuate the positive as they prepare for Astana

Celtic first team coach John Kennedy believes that remembering the past can ensure Celtic can set themselves up for the Champions League play-offs and derive full value from the excellent 1-1 scoreline against away to Kazakhstani side FC Astana come Wednesday's third qualifying leg return.

First team coach John Kennedy says Celtic wont be overly cautious heading into the second leg against Astana on Wednesday. Picture: Craig Williamson/SNS Group
First team coach John Kennedy says Celtic wont be overly cautious heading into the second leg against Astana on Wednesday. Picture: Craig Williamson/SNS Group

The last time that Celtic secured a 1-1 draw away in a Champions League qualifier came against Maribor two years ago. What didn’t follow was sealing a home scoreline that would have snared a place in group stage place.

In a tentative display, Celtic didn’t seem to know whether to sit on what they had or pursue a goal and ended up doing neither as they lost 1-0 with the concession of a goal in the 76th minute.

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Kennedy was then part of Ronny Deila’s coaching team. Brendan Rodgers may be a Celtic manager with no scarring from that grim evening but Kennedy considers it is no bad thing that this Maribor misfortune will be a raw, first-hand recollection to so many who will be out to prevent any repetition on Wednesday.

“It’s a useful experience for us to learn from as there are a lot of players from that tie still in the squad who were a part of that,” the 33-year-old said.

“At the time it was tough mentally to take that but the memories will give the players greater awareness going into this match.

“But we always knew this was going to be a tough tie and the first leg showed that. The conditions were tough as was the astroturf but coming home with a 1-1 in the bag is as positive as we could have asked for.”

And they will continue to be “positive” – a Rodgers watchword, it appears – despite the fact a scoreless draw would be enough to see off Astana and take them to within one tie success of reaching the Champions League group stages.

“I don’t think it changes our mindset,” he said. “We wanted to make sure we got a positive result and getting the away goal was massive for us. The way the tie is balanced is great for us as preparation-wise we go in with a positive mindset.

“We’re not going into this just trying to hang on. Our mindset is to go and win the game and put the tie to bed. It can be dangerous going into a match like this with a very cautious approach as one goal would put them through.

“So we have to go in there with a balanced approach but trying to win the game. From what we’ve seen and shown we believe we can do that.”

Much was made of 35 degree heat, plastic pitch and six hour time difference in assessing factors that would count against Celtic last Wednesday.

As it transpired, a showery cool afternoon meant Rodgers’ side weren’t as disadvantaged as they might have been. Indeed, the situation in reverse could be more awkward for Astana and, potentially, a telling influence in the return.

Celtic bring a different game to encounters, with Rodgers having opted to set up his side in a 3-5-2 formation.

That is a system that no Celtic side has utilised with any frequency since Kennedy was a member of Martin O’Neill’s squad in the 2003-4
 season, wherein he sustained his horrendous, career-wrecking injury.

“We played that a bit in my day and the manager’s assessed the squad and thought, to get the players on the pitch that he wants, this is the best fit,” Kennedy said.

“It’s worked well for us. We changed it midway through the second half in the first leg to give us a bit more stability but in the friendly games it’s worked well for us. But we’ll be adaptable and there will be different formations along the way. On Wednesday we’ll look at the best option for us that will help us go and win.” O’Neill’s side were certainly masters of that at home in Europe.