A good result against an expensively assembled team and an end to a frustrating European campaign.
What was most pleasing about tonight was the performance of the young players. Allan looked composed in the middle of the park and was brave on the ball, as was McGregor. Tierney continues to impress and our young centre halves were solid. What was most worrying was our continued tendency to give away possession cheaply. There were occasions when we played out from the back with some skill and other times when it was a real struggle. Actually, there’s a bigger worry than that…..Nadir Ciftci.
Now I’ve had the great pleasure and privilege of watching Celtic since 1964 (not a bad time to start going to Parkhead!). I’ve seen many great players in that time, the Lions, the Quality Street gang, and most of the football greats that have passed through Parkhead’s gates. I’ve also seen some real haddies over those years who you wonder how they got near the club. But tonight I’m struggling to think of any Celtic player who was more hapless than Ciftci is. His performance tonight seemed to encapsulate all that is wrong with his game. From not even getting a shot away when put through by a great ball from Bitton to losing possession in the lead up to their goal. He managed the odd flick on but didn’t hold the ball up and always seemed a yard off the pace. His performance was so poor that I thought we were really playing with ten men and only had a level playing field when Diego was sent off. I hope Nadir goes on to prove me wrong with future performances, but I just don’t see it.
It was clear that we set out to be tight and compact in the first half and, by and large, it worked with Fenerbache struggling to create many opportunities. In the stadium, it looked like two close teams with Fenerbache having a slight edge.
The sending off of Diego changed everything though and we were on the front foot for the first time in the game. The injection of Commons, Forrest and Rogic also helped as Deila changed the team to a more attacking shape. James Forrest continues to impress and I don’t think that I have seen him play with flair so consistently before. Our goal resulted from a great move and cross from Lustig which was superbly converted by Commons. At that point it looked like we could win it but, despite some good possession, a clear chance didn’t arrive.
Given all the political concerns in the lead-up to the game, I was pleased to see so many fans there. There had been some trouble in a couple of bars, but the club’s organisation of buses did get most of us there trouble free and three hours early! Sadly though there were some scraps between Celtic fans during this wait. You don’t expect to see Celtic fans punching lumps out of each other or, on one occasion, kicking a guy when he was down. What rescued the situation though were the fans who stepped in, separated the assailants and seemingly ejected some of them! What also helped was the reaction of the Istanbul police who allowed us to self-police and took no action that I could see. I remember a similar incident escalating in Zagreb mainly due to the heavy handedness of the police. The support of the fans continued in its usual committed and noisy manner, but again we were let down by one or two fans with flares. Again, many fans around them let their feelings be known.
Within the stadium, most fans were appreciative of the team’s efforts tonight and showed that when the final whistle went. It’s been a strange campaign with the real frustrations of the Molde games but also creditable draws in Amsterdam and Istanbul. I’m usually in the optimistic camp when it comes to our progress, but I do think that I’m watching a young team with the potential to improve.
Oh, and we didn’t lose two goals tonight!!