Celtic 1 – 0 Dinamo Zagreb
This was a great result against a strong Dinamo team. It was achieved through commitment, team work and inspired performances by Craig Gordon and Scott Brown.
Celtic started on the front foot and took a well deserved lead after an excellent move involving Izzy, Stokes and Commons showed the quality of interplay which also characterised our first goal in Salzburg. You can see the forwards trying this type of penetration repeatedly throughout the game with the final pass often just failing but when it comes off it is beautiful to watch.
At this point Celtic were pressing for a second and could have got one when the Dinamo keeper passed the ball to Kris Commons in front of an empty net. Kris couldn’t quite react in time though and a golden chance was missed. It then seemed likely that we would rue not scoring a second as Dinamo took control of the midfield and put our defence under considerable pressure. We survived until half time mainly through the industry of the whole team and a couple of impressive saves by Gordon. We seemed to be playing in a 4-4-1-1 formation tonight which helped give more solidity with both wingers impressive in the way they tracked back. This system does leave the two central midfielders exposed though and in danger of being overrun but Brown was absolutely immense tonight in the ground he covered , in his tackling and in some of the moves he started. Tonight made it very clear just how much we missed him in the CL qualifiers.
In the second half we started brightly but the game soon took on the same pattern as in the latter stages of the first half. In the middle of this half Dinamo were creating too many chances but Gordon made a string of saves, one in particular being truly world class after a Dinamo forward had been left unmarked by a ball watching Celtic defence. Whilst it wasn’t pretty, the team deserved great credit for the way they continued to apply themselves and deny Dinamo space. Eventually we started to get back on top of the midfield battle, partly helped by the introduction of Kayal as we moved to a 4-5-1.
The end of the game was very tense as a series of corners and free kicks were repelled by Virgil and there was a collective sigh of relief around the stadium when the final whistle went. The crowd was smaller than a CL game but I think it was noisier and more committed. We certainly did not have the usual mass exodus starting in the 80th minute and the atmosphere was superb throughout.
So we’ve now won three games in a row and are unbeaten in over a month. This performance can be improved upon but there are encouraging signs that the team is growing in confidence and are playing for each other and the manager. We’re now in a good position in the group but I’m not sure that Astra can be taken for granted and so we shouldn’t be too Cavalier about how we approach that game. I’d better finish on that!!!