The story of Celtic's 2-0 win over Ferencvaros: Crowd eruption, time travel, vaccine passports, and showing European credentials
In that instant, it didn’t feel like Tuesday tea-time in a dreich Glasgow, as scheduling issues had necessitated. Instead, it seemed suddenly to become one of those late night footballing jamborees in continental competition the Parkhead arena has become fabled for, but has been rarely experienced in recent times. More than that, the performance from Postecoglou’s side also was redolent of those type of evenings in pre-pandemic times.
Celtic were far from sparkling for much of the first hour, even if they ended with the juices, and the chances, flowing. However, they found a way, found their rhythm and avoided the sort of foul-ups that have stalked them as they have endured some sobering losses in cross-border competition in recent times.
Of course, it will be pointed out that Ferencvaros aren’t top drawer. They were desperately devoid of ambition. But that has been no impediment to giving Celtic a sore one in their east end home in the past 20 months. It isn’t just the complexion of the team that is taking shape under the Australian. What the victory over the Hungarians illustrated was that the character of his side is developing. It could be witnessed in the assurance of Anthony Ralston and Carl Starfelt as much as the game-changing abilities of Kyogo Furuhashi and Jota - the two players who combined brilliantly for the 57th minute opener from the Japanse striker. And it could be sensed in how Celtic responded to the massive gunk of seeing a potentially matchwinning moment evaporate when Callum McGregor had a 62nd minute penalty saved by Denes Dibasz.
Such a profound setback has tended to be the cue for further following for Celtic since they topped the Europa League group in 2019. The haven’t been able to ride out many rough patches, but they did so with aplomb against their Budapest opponents. For, after appearing to have the welcome break they craved courtesy of Adam Mongomery being shoved to the ground needlessly on the left touchline by Henry Wingo to earn them a spot-kick, there was no sense of dwelling on the agony of failing to capitalise on it. Instead, they simply pushed and probed all the more aggressively for the second goal by other means - precisely what Postecoglou seeks from his personnel.
What typified their approach, and showed most clearly the spirit that won through, was how the decisive strike was earned. McGregor could have been smarting after his penalty was struck at the right height for the keeper to push away at his right. Instead, he drove at a shaky backline and won possession with a full-blooded challenge at the edge of the area. Feeding Jota on the right, it was slap-dash stuff the followed when the ball was fired in by the Portuguese. A fresh-air swipe from David Turnbull led to the ball striking his trailing leg, bouncing off the keeper and then going into the net off Balliant Vescei, as the three players became entangled.
Ferencvaros were broken then, and Turnbull missed a pinch, before Jota had his own glaring squandering of a gloden chance. Yet, Celtic’s control of these closing stages even before they made sure of the three points could be read as a sign of Postecoglou taking learnings. With 20 minutes remaining, the man who will stick to his attacking principles at all costs revealed he won’t be stupid about them in withdrawing Liel Abada and Tom Rogic, and replacing them with Giorgios Giakoumakis and Nir Bitton. The upshot was Furuhashi went wide left and Bitton offered more defensive cover in the centre of the pitch. There are ways to win and sensible shoring up is not a lily-livered means to do so.
The Tuesday, 3.30pm kick-off ensured that the occasion felt around three-quarters-like a European evening. It had more edge and fervour of a Saturday afternoon league game, but not the full raucousness of a stand one – even if the remarkable 50,427 who rejigged all work and family responsibilities to be there did their best to inject some fervour early on.
Celtic could not match that on a day when displaying their credentials extended beyond producing the win to prevent their Group G endeavours fizzling out after three games. With the game the first to be played at Celtic Park in which random vaccine passport checks were required, it was amusing to those at the ground early to see the home players disembarking from the team bus outside the stadium not with phones in hand, but paper copies of their vaccine passports. The oddness of so many elements extended to the mundane nature of the skirmishing between the two teams in the early exchanges. Celtic could not develop much in the way of momentum as they on occasion displayed vulnerabilities - Joe Hart making an early save that he backed-up with a later fine stop.
There had been little for the crowd to get engaged over until their team found themselves under pressure at the start of the second period...and produced an outrageous response. Breaking quickly, an outrageous 50-yard sweeping pass to Furuhashi running through the middle was matched by the forward exquisitely controlling it without break stride before tucking it in at the near post. It was a moment that seemed to light the touch paper.
Celtic: Hart; Ralston, Carter-Vickers, Starfelt, Montgomery (Scales 75); McGregor; Abada (Giakoumakis 71), Rogic (Bitton 71), Turnbull, Jota; Furuhashi. Subs: Barkas, Bain, Ajeti, Soro, Johnston, Urhoghide, Shaw,
Ferencvaros: Dibusz; Wingo, Blazic, S Mmaee, Civic; Zachariassen (Loncar 66), Vecsei, Laidouni (Somalia 67); Uzuni, R Mmaee, Nguen (Mak 83). Subs: Bogdán, Zubkov, Kovacevic, Cabraja, Csontos, Mergl, Szantho, Gavric
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