There is surely no better place in the world for excitement than Parkhead after a 90th minute winning goal in our second most important game of the season! If you could bottle that feeling you’d make a fortune. But, the road to get there was tense, very tense.
Rodgers made a bold team selection with Lustig and O’Connell playing for the first time as a centre half pairing. Once again he made the right call as they looked very solid throughout the first half. In addition, he once again played with two wide wingers to fully stretch the game, though that did leave our midfield light on occasions.
We got the better of the first half and made a few half chances. One moment of Paddy Roberts magic led to a corner which resulted in a spectacular scissors kick volley from Scott Brown which Ibrahimovic would have been proud of. Or even Robin Van Persie (eh hem!). Astana had a couple of corners but never troubled Gordon in the first half. Indeed, the most worrying aspect of it was Roberts going off injured. Let’s hope he’s OK for the play offs on two weeks. Forrest then moved to the right and put in one of his best shifts for a long time. We are seeing more and more of the high pressing game that Rodgers promised with players often hunting in packs to get the ball back. We were just settling for a 0-0 half time score line when KT showed great perseverance to win a penalty which Griffiths took with great aplomb, despite the long wait!
The team then looked like it was about to put the game to bed at the beginning of the second half with a string of chances, including a lovely McGregor/Johansen move which put Griffiths through. But, after about 15 mins,we seemed to be losing the midfield battle and Astana were coming more into the game. In particular they had a couple of free kicks which our defence didn’t deal with very well (set pieces?…aaaaaagh!!). The substitution of Toure was, I think, to deal with both the midfield and defence problems with Janko moving forward and Toure partnering O’Connell (who played well again). No sooner was he on though when we conceded a goal which was well taken by Ibraimi from a Gordon clearance.
At this point it was difficult to see where a goal was going to come from for either team. Astana didn’t have another shot on target after the goal and only threatened once with a low shot just past the post whilst we were having a definite lull. Then came the crucial substitution with Dembele coming on for Forrest whose game was petering out. Now, for those of you who listen to the 90 minute cynic podcast (highly recommended!), you’ll recall that one of them said that Dembele would be better used coming on when the opposing defence was getting tired. Step forward that man as Moussa put in his best performance yet for us! He was quick, brave , showed good skills and was always trying to ask questions of the Astana defence. Fortunately for us the answer they came up with to his 90th minute run was to give away a penalty and for Shitov to be Sentov (sorry!). Shomko completely lost the plot and was also dismissed and so Dembele had to wait an age , like Griffiths earlier, to take his spot kick. And a magical Parkhead moment was made….up there with Forrest against Karagandy and Boruc’s penalty save against Spartak Moscow. I’ve seen one person even compare it to Big Billy’s header against Vojvodina in ’67. I think the roar was louder then but I was only 10 so that may not be accurate!!
Lots of positives to take from tonight’s game with team spirit being one of them. Their heads didn’t go down at any stage in the game and they’re starting to develop a bit of character. We were compact against a good team* and didn’t really look on much danger of conceding. This was definitely a result which needed to be ground out and I’m very doubtful if that would have happened a year ago.
Fingers crossed for a wee trip to Dundalk!!
*I’ve seen them described as a poor team on a few websites tonight…their Champions League record last season belies that.
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