Result 0-1 (McGregor)
Not the greatest performance by a long way but a win with a clean sheet and the woodwork being hit three times. Celts started brightly with some good movement and quick passing. It is noticeable that it is now rare for a Celtic player to touch the ball more than twice before passing it and that is a big change on last season. What isn’t a change (thankfully) is the form of Kris Commons who again, throughout the game, looked to be the man most likely to score. His first shot after 9 minutes was an exquisite volley from outside the box which rattled the bar. A minute later he hit another good shot at the end of a quick move by the bhoys. The rest of the first half had little to commend it though as KR settled into a 6 man back line with three holding midfielders! We only got behind the defence twice in the remainder of the half and didn’t trouble the goalkeeper at all. At this point I thought that Ronny was taking his promise not to change things too quickly too literally as the players were opting for the easier sideways and backwards pass as in some of our worst performances last season. Such was the quality of the game that the ‘singing’ of the home fans attracted much attention with Icelandic versions of The Wild Rover, the German national anthem and Beautiful Sunday. The biggest crowd participation though was reserved for their regular chant in support of ‘Alan’ the meaning of which caused much debate online.
Celtic improved considerably in the second half with a much faster tempo and players getting to the bye line with greater frequency. In addition they seemed to mix up their passing better with less predictability evident. On 60 minutes Griffiths showed why his new position may work out when he cut in from the right to hit a thunderous shot which came off the underside of the bar and bounced onto the line. Shortly after this Griffiths and Stokes were substituted with Pukki and Derk coming on. Griffiths had had some nice touches on the wing, plus his great shot, but overall didn’t seem comfortable in his new role. Time will tell if he adapts to it or whether he is played more centrally. Given that Stokes often drifts to the left the new system does mean that often neither of our main strikers is in the box. Stokes seemed to ignore Ronny as he ran to the bench which, if true, needs sorting. If he is unhappy at being subbed then he needs to offer more to the team.
The substitutes made an improvement to our attacking play particularly Boerrigter who ran at the tiring Icelandic defence, often getting to the bye line and sending in some good crosses. A shot from Commons (who else?) was spilled by the goalkeeper and McGregor and Boerrigter got into each other’s way trying to score from the rebound. The ball fell to Pukki who then hit the post with the goal gaping in front of him. Last season I’d have written that as just being typical of him but I think he deserves some slack given the good start he’s made to this season.
At this point it looked like being one of those days where we could play until it gets dark, which is VERY late in Iceland at this time of year, and still not score when up came McGregor. He picked the ball up on the right wing, rode two challenges and then hit a shot which went in at the keeper’s near post. A great goal on his debut and one which was well deserved by the player and the team. Just prior to this KR had a great chance to score when the ball drifted through to two unmarked players on our six yard line but thankfully they couldn’t control it and the chance was gone.
The reason why we were all worried about these qualifiers is the fact that they come so early in the season and I think this had an impact tonight particularly with a new coach who is still getting to know his players and vice versa. Having said that most teams have this type of game from time to time when confronted with a packed defence. An early goal would have made such a difference. I am encouraged though by the style that’s being attempted and the second half did show a much more inventive approach from the Celts. The main thing at this time of the season is to get the result whilst getting fitter and learning more about how to play the new system. In all three counts tonight it’s a case of job done.
Now on to Murrayfield!