Celtic will require to open up a new frontier in Europe this week to prevent their continental ambitions being threatened by a hard border.
The victory they require over Rosenborg in Trondheim to retain realistic hopes of progressing from Europa League has been presented as something of a straightforward assignment. Precedent suggests it can be considered anything but. Celtic have contested 14 away games across five Europa League campaigns since their first appearance in its sectional stage ten seasons ago. They have not posted a win in any of these encounters.
Craig Gordon is under no illusions about the awkwardness offered up by a Norwegian club bidding for a domestic double in their national cup final next week, another league title wrapped up earlier this month.
Yet, the keeper believes familiarity can breed confidence for Brendan Rodgers’ men. Incredibly, this week’s trip to the Lerkendal Stadium will be their third in the past 16 months – the two having also been paired in the Champions League qualifiers these past two seasons.
The 35-year-old considers that Rosenborg are better than their zero-point status after four games that leaves them playing only for pride in Group B. He also considers there could be no better backdrop to the game for Celtic.
“It does change it [that this is the third game there in little over a year],” said the Scottish international. “It is like another Premiership game. We know where we are going, we know the hotel, the stadium, the changing rooms, all the things like that. We have played against the players a few times, albeit they have changed coaches.
“We know what we are up against, we know we are going to have to play well to win the game. There have been a few draws. There is not a huge gulf between the teams so if we want to win, especially away from home, we know it is going to take a top performance to do that.”
Celtic currently sit on six points alongside Leipzig in Group B, Salzburg way out in front with a 100 per cent record from four matches. Irrespective of the result between the two Red Bull sides on Thursday, if Celtic don’t claim all three points it would place them in serious peril. Leipzig can be expected to win their final game at home to Rosenborg, while Celtic will have it tough in then hosting an imperious Salzburg.
Celtic’s away record at all levels in Europe remains a source of consternation to the support – they won only one of four qualifiers this season – but Gordon would contend there is no great mystery to why they find it difficult on their travels.
“It is a difficult thing to do [win away], there are only a few teams who manage it,” he said. “It is only really the elite who go away from home and win on a consistent basis but I have been part of teams who have gone and won away from home. We have done it there, 1-0 win with James [Forrest] scoring so we know we can do it. We will use that experience to try and do it again.
“Our need for a result takes everything else out of the equation. We know we have to go there and get the win. That does kind of focus everything.”
Gordon returned to the Celtic team for the trip to Hamilton yesterday after missing out on Scotland duty with an injury sustained in the win over Leipzig. Like any other armchair supporter, he was gripped by the Nations League success, wowed by the performances of Forrest that inspired it. Gordon believes he played with no better winger than the team-mate who bagged a double in the 4-0 success in Albania before clinching the country a Euro 2020 play-off place with a hat-trick in the 3-2 Hampden win over Israel on Tuesday.
“It was frustrating not to be involved, but there was no chance I was going to make that,” the keeper said. “I got the scans after the game and realised straight away that wasn’t going to be possible. That’s football. Injuries are going to happen. We should have put it to bed a little bit sooner than we did [against Israel], but we always do things the hard way. At least we got the job done. I’m delighted for everyone and it’s on to the next stage.
“We’ve not achieved anything just yet, but we’re delighted to still be involved and get that chance.
“James was absolutely outstanding. Some of his touches in that game and his finishes were so calm. He’s been in such great form for most of the season and indeed last season. He’s upped his goal tally, and he’s just continuing to improve and improve. The manager here has been excellent for him. He’s really taken him that stage further and made him more aware tactically and positionally about where he should be on the field to get these opportunities.
“He’s been able to adapt to what the manager is looking for, whereas at times before he’s maybe been given a winger’s role to just go and play. He’s one of our go-to men in this team. If he’s not scoring himself, he’s getting assists. It’s an incredible run he’s on.”