At half-time last night, a swaying gent on the concourse of Celtic Park’s main stand was mouthing off to anyone in his vicinity about the 45 minutes in which he had just watched his team scoring three goals against Hapoel Beer-Sheva without reply.
“Everything is different under Brendan Rodgers. Every player is different. Every player is better,” he gurgled. A naysayer wasn’t having that, cautioning about the fact that another 45 minutes remained.
Moreover, the pessimist claimed, the only difference with Celtic’s, ultimately, failed Champions League play-off home tie under Ronny Deila a year earlier was that Leigh Griffiths had scored at the end of the opening period this time, whereas back then he missed with the result Malmo made it 2-1. The merry fan stuck to his guns. “The whole atmosphere is different,” he maintained once more.
By the 57th minute, it seemed his confidence had been misplaced courtesy of a second goal inside three minutes by the Israelis. A double salvo that placed this tie firmly in the Malmo territory of August 2015. Griffiths, with a double in each of these play-off evenings, had claimed pre-match that all the lessons had been learned from the previous year.
Their vulnerability suggested otherwise, but then their bouncebackability, in turn, flipped that on its head. In incredible fashion. And the 5-2 victory wrestled from a position of crisis had Rodgers’ imprint all over it.
He had the courage to commit all three of his substitutes shortly after it went to 3-2. One of these, Moussa Dembele, scored to give Celtic a more promising cushion. Scott Brown, scorer of the late fifth, stepped up in the heat of battle and that Celtic will need to lose by three goals in Israel to prevent them taking a place in the group stages suggests Rodgers can be the catalyst for everything being different for Celtic in a Champions League play-off.
One predictable outcome came from a support that have become repeat offenders in Uefa’s eyes. Minutes before kick-off last night a large banner display featuring Brendan Rodgers was unveiled from the standing section that is home to the club’s ultra group the Green Brigade.
There must have been a thought then from some inside the stadium that the anticipated show of solidarity with the Palestinian people expected to take the form of Green Brigaders waving the flag of a people oppressed by Israel might not happen. Instead, when the first whistle sounded, dozens of Palestinian flags were waved, with one in particular about 15ft tall.
Uefa’s freedom of expression-suppressing rules - challenged by Barcelona over their fines for flying Catalan independence emblems – will deem that Celtic be penalised for a ninth time in six years.
There has been hype about Uefa closing a stand, but that seems overheated with many clubs regularly swelling Uefa’s coffers thanks to monetary penalties.
The governing body’s rules are more than questionable, but so is the fact the Green Brigade don’t care about what grief they bring upon the club in pursuing their own agendas. Outside on the Celtic way there were moving banners about ending “football apartheid”, and a display that appealed for “fair play for Palestine” and referenced the human rights-trashing barrier between Gaza – only 20 miles from Beersheba – and Israel. They had more emotional weight than the Green Brigade posturing.