Second chances were a recurring theme for Celtic in their Betfred Cup win at Firhill on Saturday. The offering of them, and the taking of them.
In the former bracket, was that one-man soap opera Dedryck Boyata. It was a genuine surprise for Brendan Rodgers to open the door to the Belgian’s immediate return to a team that, in a fit of pique over a denied transfer to Fulham, he refused to play for in the club’s lost Champions League qualifier away to AEK Athens last week.
The Celtic manager appeared entirely confident a Boyata apology to the “group” – disgruntled team-mates and, by implication the club’s support – would allow for him to “redeem” himself over his “mistake” in time to be considered for Thursday’s Europa League play-off first leg away to Lithuanian side FK Suduva.
Cristian Gamboa will be hoping that tie allows him to continue to make good on the unexpected second chance he has been given this season to make a contribution to the Celtic cause.
In a lacklustre display by Rodgers’ men that forced them to recover from the loss of a late equaliser against a Partick Thistle team now ensconced in the Championship following relegation, it fell to the hugely likeable Costa Rican to provide the brio that ensured they can look forward to a quarter-final tie away to St Johnstone next month.
Well, Gamboa and both fellow Celtic full-back and second chancer Emilio Izaguirre – the Honduran an impressive buzzbomb in his first outing following a shock return to the club last week.
Their efforts brought them the acclaim of an away support that previously had been at their juvenile and tedious worst with the IRA songbook given full vent and a smoke bomb thrown on after Leigh Griffiths had netted the opener in the 18th minute.
Gamboa’s match-winning contribution had them returning to what supporters are supposed to do: support their team with his name belted out in a loop.
These lyrical testimonials were the product of the adventure and drive that the overlapping right-back had shown in making two lung-bursting runs down the right three minutes apart.
These provided the openings that Moussa Dembele and Tom Rogic gobbled up to take the tie away from Thistle within seven minutes of a fine 73nd minute strike by Andrea Mbuyi-Mutombo giving them a “fright”, as the Maryhill club’s manager Alan Archibald put it.
Gamboa has gained the affections of the Celtic support for demonstrating in his outings this season that he currently possesses the focus and fitness that seem to have been compromised for Mikael Lustig by his longer and more draining World Cup exertions.
The 28-year-old has been largely overlooked by Rodgers in the past 14 months through being adjudged, with good reason, as far more defensively vulnerable than the Swede. However, it was the older full-back’s inability to cut out crosses that was Celtic’s undoing in the two legs against AEK Athens more than any centre-back issues.
Gamboa’s time may have come, certainly as regards selection for the Suduva encounter, anyway. And certainly a time came at Firhill he must have never thought would do.
“I’ve been two years at the club and they hadn’t sung my name so today was really special, especially as my family were here,” he said.
“I’ve been in the shadows, working hard, trying to get a chance and I think today, myself and my family got something back. Now I’ve got to keep going. This is the way I am. I will always keep going until the end.At this kind of club, there’s always good competition around. You always need to put in hard work. Every game is a challenge so you need to prove yourself every time.
“The manager has made this point. In the two past games [with defeat by Hearts and AEK], there was disappointment but against Partick we got back on track which is good for the club and the fans.
“I’ve always tried to do my best and work hard. I may not have been getting game time but I’ve tried to keep myself on top.
“I wanted to get to the World Cup and play and I managed three games with Costa Rica. That was my second World Cup so I think the gaffer can trust me.
“I still have one year on my contract and I’ve always said my family are happy here. I’m happy as it’s a fantastic club.”