Celtic infused with intensity, imagination and a player with finesse - new life breathed into campaign

It is no secret that Ange Postecoglou is a performance coach. The Celtic manager will look beyond the ample reward of European football after Christmas then in reflecting on his team’s 3-2 win away to Ferencvaros. The Europa League success in Hungary, which guarantees that Celtic will at the very least drop down in the Europa Conference League at the conclusion of Group G, was far more impressive than the final scoreline could suggest

Liel Abada celebrates his goal for Celtic.
Liel Abada celebrates his goal for Celtic.

Until a delightful curling drive from Myrto Uzuni in the 86th minute that reduced the arrears for the Budapest team and created a few scares, Celtic utterly bossed a European group game outwith their own environs in a fashion unheard of in recent times.

Infused with intensity and attacking imagination – Kyogo Furuhashi central to that with a goal and stonking assist – Celtic impressed more than even when triumphing 3-0 away to Anderlecht in the Champions League four years ago. There were successes all over the pitch for Postecoglou, even on a night he deployed all five substitutions, which impacted on their fluency and thrust in the closing stages. Even if it seemed the game was well won with a move and score to make it 3-1 that illustrated all that Celtic excelled on on the night. Callum McGregor was tigerish to win the ball in the centre of the pitch, and composed enough to feed Furuhashi through the middle. In turn, the striker’s ability to deliver with the delicate and delightful led to him producing a perfectly weighted pass to release Liel Abada down the right channel, the winger meeting it first time to guide it confidently into the corner.

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It was impossible to know quite what to expect of Celtic following their blunt showing in the scoreless draw with Livingston. There did, though, appeared one certainty about the encounter in the Groupama Arena, and it took only three minutes for it to be banked. For, whatever else might be said about Celtic on the road in European competition, there can be few teams more adept at drawing first blood in unfamiliar environs in continental competition.

Jota was on target for Celtic again.

So it was with the sumptuous third-minute strike from Furuhashi that extended Celtic run of scoring first in European away encounters to an incredible 11 games. A period that covers the past 23 months.

That the Japanese phenomenon would bag his 11th goal in Celtic colours in such rapid, and blistering fashion, also seemed to reinforce the folly of Postecoglou resting him for the club’s sterile display at the weekend. The Celtic manager’s reasoning, that he had to protect his totemistic performer from burn-out, was entirely understandable. Furuhashi’s season began in his homeland in February, and the Scottish domestic term will not end until next May.

However, he brings a dimension to Celtic’s central attacking play that elevates Postecoglou’s team. His opener was a case in point. Abada may have shown great alertness to nip in and steal possession from the home side before playing the ball inside to Furuhashi in the centre circle. From that point, there was still oodles for the striker to do though, with markers camped around him. He rose to the challenge with the finesse he produced in shaping to shoot with his right before dragging the ball to his left before passing it into the bottom corner of the net.

As standard as Celtic scoring first overseas is the likelihood of them being pegged back as they had been – at one stage – in eight of their previous ten European away days. It happened again in the 11th minute, when a carelessly over-ambitious hook into the middle from Abada allowed Ferencvaros to pick up possession. The ball spread to the right for Oleksandr Zubkov to be able to fire towards goal and there fortune intervened with his hit deflecting off Josip Juranovic and looping up over Hart. It wasn’t a calamitous counter and the control that Celtic exerted from that point showed they had not been derailed by it. It seemed inevitable they would find their way back in front and did so with a classy 23rd minute strike that followed a clever feint from David Turnbull that set up Jota to drift in off the left and unleashed a curling drive that grazed a defender and clipped the inside of the far post on its way over. Both sides had efforts of the bar in the second period, but it never felt that Celtic wouldn’t find a way to claim all three points and put themselves right back in contention for qualifying from their Europa League group.

Kyogo Furuhashi opened the scoring for Celtic in Budapest.

With two games remaining, they are only one point shy of Real Betis with a six haul. With leaders Bayer Leverkusen away up next in a fortnight, they still are outside bets but there is no question that Postecoglou has the makings of a side with plenty to offer. And they certainly offered plenty for an away group win that doesn’t have many equals in the past decade.

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