The sun was shining and a crowd of well over 40 000 turned up for our first competitive game of 2015/16. It was great to be back; few things in life compare with the goosebumps I get walking up The Gallowgate and seeing the stadium come into view. This time the view was enhanced by the “legend” pictures behind the Jock Stein Stand. The transformation of the ground in recent years has been really impressive for which the club deserves great credit. I’m also chuffed to be able to buy tomato soup in the stadium…..Paradise indeed!
The starting line up had two surprises, Ciftci replacing Griffiths and Forrest replacing GMS. We made a positive start and were clearly on top of Stjarnan but the rustiness of our first competitive game was evident. Many passes were slightly off (Johansen being a particular culprit) which, when playing against a ten man defence, is enough for the move to break down. Ciftci was unlucky not to score in the ninth minute when his shot struck the keeper’s legs and I thought that he was impressive tonight and held the ball up well. He has a very different style from Griffiths and so gives us another option. He was often in the six yard box when crosses were coming in and would have scored a couple if his heading hadn’t been just a bit off.
The replacement of GMS by Forrest didn’t help the team as James is still very ring rusty having had very little pre-season time. This was compounded by his natural tendency of cutting inside at almost every chance re-asserting itself. He did, though, throw in some good crosses.
The need for more match sharpness was evident in many players, Bitton played below his best as did Izzy. In fact at times Izzy seemed to want to replace Efe as Bomb Scare Player of the Year. One sliced clearance across his own penalty area was particularly scary and it was no surprise that Stjarnan’s best chances in the game came from attackers having space down the left.
There is no doubt that we could easily have lost a goal or two tonight and would have done against a better team. However, only one out of the back four was a regular player last season (the afore mentioned Izzy) so it was hardly surprising that they stuttered a bit. Boyata was impressive and took his goal well in a Denayer-esque fashion.
The second half didn’t start well with Stjarnan having the two chances mentioned earlier but then we scored a beautifully crafted goal with Armstrong being at the centre of it. After this we replaced Forrest with Griffiths (and did we dabble intentionally with a 4-4-2?) and had our best spell of the match. The third goal was proving elusive though and the team visibly tired after about 75 mins. Then came our chance to make it three but, in a repeat of the League Cup Final, we couldn’t decide who should take it with Johansen and Griffiths having a debate by the penalty spot. It has the same outcome as the League Cup Final with Neilsen saving comfortably, in fact he made a few good saves throughout the game.
3-0 would have been a much more decisive result but we should do well against this team in Reykjavik. Presumably we’ll have Virgil back,and GMS, and the team will have had another week’s training. If Stjarnan hope to score two goals then they can’t play 5-4-1 (or 6-4!) and we should score at least one over there.
So my flights are booked for next week as is my tour of hot geysers and waterfalls. Just a small matter of getting hold of a ticket now!!