(Scepovic 71, Johansen 77)
Astra Giurgiu 1
The Europa League is certainly proving to be good for our coefficient points if not our blood pressure. This season it has been impossible to predict which Celtic team would turn up for a game and a good performance is regularly followed by an indifferent one. In one sense, tonight’s performance was one that we have seen so many times this season, particularly in the first half. Poor control on the ball and a sloppiness in possession which leads to anxiety amongst the crowd even when playing simple balls out of defence (yes, Charlie Mulgrew I’m talking about you!). The tell tale signs that it was going to be one of those games started early and, undoubtedly gave Astra confidence. They realised if they pressed us high up the pitch then we would make mistakes which would present them with chances, a similar ploy utilised by Hamilton a couple of weeks ago. Astra deserved to take the lead in the first half on the basis of chances created and goalkeeper worked. Whilst we had plenty of possession we had no shots on target and did not force the keeper into a single save. Again, we relied on Craig Gordon to keep us in the match, which he did with several saves.
The one consolation at half time was that we were still level despite playing so badly; surely we would play better in the second half. Thankfully we upped our game enough (just!) to secure the three points. It is to the team’s credit that nobody ‘hid’ on this occasion and that they worked hard to create opportunities. This started to pay off with more and more crosses getting into the box and chances being created, particularly for Scepovic, who was not having the best of nights. Like the rest of the team though his attitude was excellent and he kept applying himself and this eventually paid off with a headed goal from one of the few good set pieces by Celtic. I’ve no doubt that Scepovic is going to be a big player for us, yes, he missed several (three!) good chances but I was pleased that he was in the right position for those chances even though both he and the team were struggling. I am much more concerned about Tonev at the moment and struggle to see what he brings to our attack. He rarely goes past a defender and his crossing is mixed to put it mildly.
The ubiquitousness of Johansen paid off when he pounced on a goalkeeping error to score our second and that was that. Except it wasn’t as Astra almost immediately scored a soft goal to make the last ten minutes more nerve wracking than they should have been. Having said that, we created the best chance with an inventive shot from Wakaso leading to Scepovic being marginally too slow to react and get a third.
At the start of the Europa League campaign I’m sure that we’d all have taken the results that we’ve had. Despite our struggles tonight I do fancy us taking something from the away tie. Our last two away performances in Europe have been better than our home ones as the team takes advantage of the space that they have in these games . A win there plus a win for Salzburg and we’re though with two games to spare. Something tells me though that it won’t be so straightforward!!