Celtic v Legia Warsaw: First-leg flak deserved

Efe Ambrose picked up a first-half red card in Poland. Picture: SNS
Efe Ambrose picked up a first-half red card in Poland. Picture: SNS
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While Ronny Deila needs time, Celtic horror show in Poland should have been avoided, writes Andrew Smith

INEVITABLY, the blunderbuss has been unloaded in all Celtic directions since Wednesday. And the direct hits have arrived with the frequency of goals from Legia Warsaw in the club’s shambolic 4-1 Champions League qualifying defeat the other night. Perhaps the pellets have even rained in as the strikes did from Spurs in their 6-1 win over 
a largely second string Celtic in Helsinki yesterday.

Those who have taken aim at the club’s strategy, chief executive Peter Lawwell, new manager Ronny Deila and the entire playing squad have all been within their rights to do so. Even if Deila is only two months in post, there are patently problems when so important a game as that played out in Poland could see Celtic lacerated by a Legia side that have spent around £400,000 in the transfer market this summer.

When Deila did his first meet-and-greets with the media in late June, Lawwell sat beside him and said that the Glasgow club only budgeted for reaching the Champions League three years out of five. There could always be a Karagandy, he said, a reference to the Kazakh side Celtic required to beat 3-0 in a fraught second leg play-off to squeak into the Champions League last season.

Yet, having had one Karagandy and escaped, there was reason to suspect a similar scenario might be avoided a year later – the parallels between the two appearing destined to end with a desperate first leg defeat as it is fanciful to believe Celtic could beat their visitors 3-0 at Murrayfield on Wednesday.

It has become well rehearsed by the club that major investment in individual players is proving increasingly difficult because Scottish football is so unattractive an environment. Then there are issues concerning the club’s football department wage structure. Yet, if healthy profits are being posted then fans have the right to expect that limits will be pushed to ensure the highest value team possible is assembled.

All that said, Celtic, even without captain Scott Brown and James Forrest, even when they were down to 10 men after Efe Ambrose’s end of first-half dismissal, even if only under Deila’s charge for a third competitive game, should have had the wherewithal to avoid a 2-1 deficit becoming a 4-1 deficit late on.

Deila accepted a fair degree of responsibility. Yet, the relatively expansive manner in which he configured his team, and his openness to throwing new loan signing Jo Inge Berget straight into the starting line-up only two days after his arrival, suggested a level of naivety that could yet make the recruitment strategy responsible for his arrival appear more flawed than the one governing player acquisitions.

That assessment is harsh when Deila has had precious little opportunity to put his stamp on the team, but it doesn’t engender confidence that he failed to recognise solidity, and a certain stuffiness even in qualifiers, is what brought results for Neil Lennon with the, largely, limited players he linked together in continental competition. Deila might have been wise sticking to what they knew and were comfortable with.