THE Champions League qualifier in Elfsborg’s Boras Arena last night was a curiosity in that it was probably the final time that two particular Neil Lennon signings would appear on the pitch in a Celtic game.
The peculiar aspect was to be found in the fact that the two players in question were on opposing sides and pitted directly against each another.
It is generally accepted that Celtic defender Kelvin Wilson will now depart the club and return to the Midlands home he has been pining for by rejoining Nottingham Forest, with the English Championship side prepared to pay £2.5 million for a centre-back who left them under freedom of contract two years ago.
Wilson’s last outing may have brought the desired outcome, with the scoreless draw scrambled in desperate circumstances, allowing Celtic to progress to the Champions League play-offs following their 1-0 win in Glasgow the previous week.
In no respect, though, was the central defender’s expected final 90 minutes in hooped colours one for him to recall with relish ... and that had everything to do with how Mo Bangura performed against the club that packed him off on loan to Elfsborg, with widespread expectation. Last night then, was probably the Sierre Leone internationalist’s final opportunity to impress watchers of a Celtic he signed for from AIK in a £2.2m deal two summers ago.
He certainly took it, carrying a menace from the off that Wilson and his centre-back partner Efe Ambrose struggled to contain.
There were concerns that Wilson, with his mind elsewhere, might not be in the absolute best frame of mind to handle his duties in Sweden. They appeared well-founded in the opening exchanges with Bangura working the visitors’ backline with alarming frequency.
The striker’s strength and focus were in sharp contrast to the hesitancy and weak-willed contributions of Wilson and Ambrose. Bangura, only five minutes in, came within a whisker of arrowing a smartly-judged overhead kick inside the right-hand post of the beaten Fraser Forster.
Only an outstretched leg of the off-the-pace Wilson prevented Bangura bursting through shortly afterwards and though Joe Ledley and Georgios Samaras passed up the best two openings of the first period, the on-loan Celtic forward in home colours continued to cause Celtic hearts to go all aflutter any time he forced his way into the action.
The 24-year-old has come closer to scoring in a Celtic game in these two Champions League qualifers than was ever true of his 16 appearances – only three of which were starts – that he was given by Lennon.
Bangura, an injury doubt for this week’s second leg, is clearly not a top-notch goalscorer, however. And Celtic had reason to be grateful for that fact on the half-hour mark when he looped a header over the bar after ghosting in behind the Scottish champions’ defence.
Wilson has been declared “my No 1” defender by the Celtic manager as Forest have refused to give up on their efforts to sign a player who has clearly given them every encouragement to make such a dogged pursuit. On the back of a forgettable first season in Glasgow, Wilson came good in the past year and was a central figure as Lennon’s side made their way through to the Champions League last 16.
Yet, the frailties Wilson exhibited last night – highlighted by an injudicious challenge on James Keene an hour in that could so easily have brought a penalty – might lend weight to the argument that making a £2.5m profit on him could represent a decent piece of business. Especially if Wilson’s mind is once again mushed by the separation from a young child that he has previously admitted was a factor in his inability to settle initially.
Any judgement on whether Celtic are better sticking or twisting where Wilson is concerned will only be known once a replacement has been bought for the soon-to-be Forest player, which they surely must. Reinvesting the entire transfer fee they bank for him, and potentially adding a little to that, ought to allow them to attract a player of Wilson’s standing.
Then again, for all that Celtic’s transfer policy of buying young and cheap has been unquestionably successful, shopping for players in the £2m-plus bracket hasn’t always earned them the desired returns. The Mo Bangura story is testament to that fact.