Celtic concluded their pre-season fixtures with this convincing victory over quality opposition, with several candidates for the Man of the Match award. However, manager Brendan Rodgers afterwards claimed that the most impressive feature of the afternoon had been the performance of the club’s significantly improved hybrid playing surface.
When he first arrived in 2016 he felt that the quality of the pitch at Parkhead worked against the high tempo passing style that he favours, but he is confident now that the new turf will help his double treble winners improve further.
“Our identity and purpose to our game is always to be very fast and dynamic and very aggressive and - when you have a really good, fast pitch - that really supports that way of playing,” he said. “It was a big investment by the club of £1.5 million but they will get their rewards. So will the players and, very importantly for me, the spectators. It does help because we want to play a fast game.
“You saw the difference today; a quality playing surface brings a different level of game. We play a high-level technical game but with speed so the surface supports it. Like I say, it is a credit to the club and our ground staff. That is why we are here - to play a brand of football that excites.”
Celtic began with what would be regarded as their strongest starting XI from the players currently available to them, with the exception of the goalkeeping position, where Scott Bain deputised for Craig Gordon, who has a minor wrist injury.
Odsonne Edouard, who became the club’s record signing when his loan move from Paris St Germain was made permanent last month, curled a shot from the far corner of the penalty area into the postage-stamp corner to give Celtic the lead.
Moussa Dembele, who also smacked the crossbar with a rising shot after being sent clear by Edouard’s disguised pass, seemed to be everywhere. At one point he volleyed a clearance off the goal-line from Moussa Djenepo’s shot and then he ghosted in to dispossess Luis Pedro Cavanda before delicately chipping the ball over the advancing goalkeeper, Jean-Francois Gillet, for the second goal against opponents who will enter the Champions League in the third qualifying round next month.
The impressive Callum McGregor scored the third four minutes from the interval. The Scotland midfielder ghosted in behind the defence, Olivier Ntcham’s slide-rule pass picked him out and McGregor’s emphatic finish from 12 yards rendered Francois a spectator.
Rodgers fielded a completely different team for the second half but they continued to threaten more often than the visitors. Mikey Johnston added a fourth, chipping over the ‘keeper after being set up by Scott Sinclair. Duje Cop fired into the roof of Conor Hazard’s net for the Belgians with 19 minutes remaining.
Eight sprinklers erupted to bring play to a temporary halt but it was one of the few faults in a productive day.