“We are at home so we are going to play the way we play," Neil Lennon said. "If that means being aggressive, playing with a quick tempo then that suits our players, pitch and atmosphere. We won’t allow Lazio to settle into the game and dictate the tempo.”
It was the latter rather than the former that happened. Lucas Levia and Sergej Milinkovic-Savic were resplendent in midfield after a bright Celtic opening. The fluency, confidence and combination play, the high-tempo assault, the vigour Neil Lennon talked about before the game was being tamed by Simone Inzaghi’s confident Lazio side. Leiva in particular shone, breaking up play and appearing one step ahead when in possession.
Trailing at home to an Italian giant, albeit one without as significant a presence as others. They could have wilted, and may have done so if Joaquin Correa’s shot had hit the back of the net rather than the post. But they stayed with it, stayed competitive, kept their head above water and made quite the statement.
Lennon praised the performance of his captain Scott Brown but it was players behind and in front of him who truly shone. Christopher Jullien was bought for such occasions and made an incredible tackle in the second half. Fraser Forster produced match-winning and match-saving stops. Ryan Christie? A goal and an assist.
It is a huge confidence booster for Lennon and his green and white charges. They can play at a level below their best in Europe, they can trail to wily opponents but they can still win. Celtic shouldn’t fear the Europa League, they showed be a team feared.
Ryan Christie was coming into the game fresh having sat out the Ross County game. His sending off and the reaction which followed could have dented his confidence or at the very least sat at the back of his mind. It is something which may have made him second guess himself, take away the spontaneity which makes him such a wonderful player. However, the 24-year-old is a strong personality with a positive, winning personality.
He very nearly made a stunning welcome return with a shot which kissed the post. It wasn’t long before Lazio began to take control of proceedings and the No.17 faded from the encounter as did his team-mates. Trailing 1-0 and not looking like getting back into the game, the home side and the support needed a shot in the arm. Enter Christie.
He has that capability of dragging a team forward, enlivening games, firing out endorphins among the crowd. He hadn't got close to Levia in the first half but his pressing in the second half deep in the Lazio half presented Lennon’s men with their best chance as he forced a turnover. It seemed to turn the tide in Celtic’s favour. It’s a simple thing which many players don’t seem to realise. Running and closing down gets fans on your side and makes opposing players uncomfortable.
He would get his reward, sweeping in a crucial goal to equalise. He would follow it up by curling in the corner for Christopher Jullien to head in the winner. A big game player.
The Norwegian arrived at Celtic as a £16million Premier League flop looking to reinvigorate a career which sparkled in Switzerland with Basel. He was a player who had performed on the European stage.
It was nights like these where his presence would help the team, maybe take them up a level. However, his forward forays fizzled out at every opportunity against Lazio. He would have been glad to have been on the other side of the pitch from an increasingly annoyed Neil Lennon. If he tried to go down the line he would be dispossessed. Inside he found a wall of blue shirts ready to crowd him out. As for passing, the one which rolled out of the pitch past Boli Bolingoli summed up his evening. Everything he attempted lacked both panache and confidence, in blind hope rather than expectation.
With an array of attacking options, not to forget the seldom seen Scott Sinclair back on the bench, he needs to up his game. It is one thing producing against Hamilton and Ross County, but to be a player deserving of the Celtic shirt, to be remembered by fans and placed among the echelons of good, let alone great, he needs to breathe life into European encounters.