When it comes to making the trip up to Paradise there’s always a few things to consider: how will I get up there? How much will it cost? Will I be able to get a match ticket? (These are the perks of being born in London – simply getting to a game is a challenge).
As soon as I’d confirmed my tickets for last night’s match I felt unusually optimistic considering we were playing in a Champions League Play Off fixture – that’s what a couple of good performances does to you.
The first half last night was magnificent. While Hapoel Be’er Sheva impressed me with their ability on the ball; especially their forwards’ hold up play, we were utterly dominant – racing into a 3-goal lead at the break.
In life I believe it’s always important to hold your hands up and admit when you are wrong, but as a blogger you have no choice in the matter: once your written words have been proven incorrect there is no hiding place, and I must admit that when we first signed Leigh Griffiths I had doubts about his attitude and character. Boy was I wrong.
Since the minute Leigh stepped through the front doors at Celtic Park he has done everything in his power to become the best player he can be. And it has certainly paid dividends. His free kick was a great strike, but it was the natural instinct to hold his run, sprint onto Forrest’s hung up cross and attack the ball and plant his header into the bottom corner for his first goal which impressed me most last night. It was a classy finish and highlighted his understanding and reading of the game.
At 3-0 up we went into half time bouncing, with the Holy Grail of the Champions League group stages in our sights.
15 minutes into the second half and it appeared the nightmare of Malmo was going to repeat itself. As soon as the first Hapoel goal went in I’d imagine everyone inside Celtic Park was also anticipating the second. The difference, this year, was the reaction thereon in.
Two counter attacking goals could have crushed us. The reaction after the first goal was poor; we looked shellshocked. But once the second was scored there was an indication that we weren’t going to let this slip again.
Looking across to the bench it was clear that Brendan Rodgers understood the situation following Hapoel’s resurgence.
Could we go through after a 3-2 victory at home? Yes, we could. But I certainly wouldn’t feel confident about it.
Brendan recognised the need to increase our lead, he wasn’t happy to sit back, and with Hapoel looking confident he made the changes which turned the tie back in our favour.
Lustig appeared to be struggling with injury and the pace of Hapoel’s left winger; McGregor could no longer keep up with the end-to-end nature of the game; and Tom Rogic, while fantastic on the ball, was the man to be the sacrificed in order to bring on an extra forward. The introduction of Janko, Bitton, and Dembele made clear our intentions.
With Rogic off the park, Griffiths took over corner kick duty, and didn’t you just know he would deliver. From behind the goal I had no idea who planted the header into the back of the net for our 4th. O’Connell? Bitton? Dembele? I really couldn’t have cared less, I was leaping for joy as Paradise erupted.
A 2-goal lead to take abroad was a good result, but with Hapoel having 2 away goals to their name and now sitting deep, it was vital we restore our 3-goal advantage.
As Man Of The Match, Scott Brown, volleyed home the fifth there was sheer elation amongst the supporters.
On a night which Brown became our leading ever performer in Europe, in terms of appearances made, it was fitting that he sealed the win, especially given his performance.
Broony was tremendous throughout. The captain was a general on the park; a driving force at times but also a calm & composed presence in slowing the pace of the game down when required.
As the final whistle blew it was evident we had witnessed a quite magnificent game of football, and with it, a fantastic result to build on next week in our quest for Champions League football.
The players and coaching staff deserve enormous praise for their performance last night, and so too do the support.
The noise generated to drive the team on was deafening at times, and while some are entitled to believe that politics and football should not mix, I, amongst many others, was delighted by the show of solidarity to Palestine which eminated from our stands. As “a club like no other” some things go beyond the football, despite UEFA “warnings”.
While I’m still nervous going into next week’s return leg (the nature of supporting Celtic away in Europe), we’ve got a great result to take with us to Israel. Let’s finish the job, Celtic.