That the lifeless and, largely, witless display they witnessed in the 1-0 defeat by Preston was a product of Ange Postecoglou’s side saving themselves. Saving themselves for the only Celtic Park occasion this week that truly matters, and takes the form of Tuesday’s Champions League second round qualifier against FC Midtjylland. If instead what they served up in the new Celtic manager’s first home outing was a harbinger, then frankly there will be no saving themselves against the Danes.
Evidence from friendlies always requires to be hugely caveated, of course. The make-up of the team that the Greek-Australian required to send out against the English Championship team could only have been a factor in their failure to implement the Postecoglou hallmarks. Unlike earlier encounters in this pre-season, they struggled to move the ball quickly or press with the intensity obligatory of their manager. In the first period, it led to the 55-year-old cutting an increasingly brooding figure by his technical area as he barked “pass! pass!” to his side. An XI that had a wholly patchwork look to it with injuries rendering Ismaila Soro, Mikey Johnston, Karamoko Dembele and Nir Bitton unavailable. In addition, James Forrest was not risked having returned from Covid-19 close-contact isolation, while Odsonne Edouard spent the first hour on the bench.
None of these elements entirely accounted for lame nature of Celtic efforts; the Parkead side constantly looking vulnerable against high balls - sound familiar? - and creating precious little in the first period, save for a few driving runs, and one stinging shot, from David Turnbull. New signing Liel Abada was introduced on the hour mark and he too provided a degree of attacking impetus with a flashing drive, but the afternoon would have given Postecoglou plenty to fret over ahead of Tuesday.
One positive will have been the contribution of keeper Vasilis Barkas. The Greek, forever maligned last season for failing to make saves, made a stupendous one to keep his team on terms in the opening minutes. He gave way to Scott Bain at half-time, and the Scotland international did himself no favours in bringing down Sean Maguire seconds after the attacker’s 62nd minute arrival. It allowed Benjamin Whiteman to hit the resultant penalty straight down the middle to earn his side a win.
A strange afternoon all round, the 2,000 attendance allowed for as the club welcomed back supporters for the first time since last March seemed nowhere near being met. A few rough counts suggested there may have been closer to half that number. They had little to rouse them in the sunshine. Except to acclaim Scott Sinclair as the Celtic Invincible was withdrawn, his jog from the pitch accompanied by huge roars. Nothing else over the evening warranted such acclaim.
Celtic: Barkas (Bain 46); Ralston (O’Connor 73), Urhoghide (Murray 46), Welsh (Hjelde 61), Taylor (Bolingoli 61); Shaw (Rogic 61), McGregor (Coffey 73); Moffat (Henderson 46), Turnbull (Rogic 61), Montgomery (Abada 61); Ajeti (Edouard 61).
Preston: Rudd; Storey (Bauer 61), Lindsay (Riis 61), Hughes (Rafferty 61); Barkhuizen (Seary 76), Whiteman, Ledson, Potts (van den Berg 61), Cunningham (Brown 61); Sinclair (Earl 61), Evans (Maguire 61).