When I left Parkhead a week ago I was confident that we could get a result tonight but, in the last week, thoughts of Benfica (Gary Caldwell), Karagandy, Warsaw and even Neuchatel Xamax came to haunt me! So by the time kick off arrived I was in a high state of nerves. These had, of course, been calmed by the Scottish Media’s supportive comments re the heat, state of the pitch, quality of Qarabag and our poor travelling record; OK I was with them on the last point!!
My nerves weren’t helped by our initial play which was very tense with passes going awry. Chris Sutton (who is now completely on message!) kept being “worried a little bit” by various aspects of our play. I think that all commentators should receive a course on their responsibility for the mental health of the viewers; I had enough worries of my own without Chris sharing his! Normally I manage to get to European games and I’ve now discovered that it’s much easier being there despite the compensation I had of a Guinness and curry during the game.
Whilst Qarabag were on top at the start of the match I was encouraged that they weren’t really creating anything. The shape of our team was very compact and disciplined and Gordon was well protected. A special mention must go to Izzy; I’m not sure that he crossed the half way line at all in the first half and he showed that he can defend effectively away from home in Europe. In fact, he was so effective that most of Qarabag’s attacks came down our right side. Thankfully Lustig was also having his best game of the season so most attacks were contained. The one exception was when GMS was fouled for the zillionth time without getting a free kick. Qarabag attacked with pace and the moved finished with a great shot from Almeida and a world class save from Gordon (to any Green Brigade member reading……can we have a song for Craig?!).
The half finished with Bitton, who grew in stature as the game went on, trying to score from the half way line. I think it may have been our first shot on target!!
In the second half we gave one of the most controlled, mature and disciplined performances that I’ve seen us play in Europe. At no time did I feel we were in danger of losing a goal nor did we seem to be likely to make our usual rash defensive mistake! The players work rate was immense and a sign of how our fitness has improved. We pressed high without being vulnerable and the midfield were immense with Brown and Bitton outstanding. The central defence was also superb with Boyata cutting out the sloppy passes from Saturday and dealing well with any threat. The best chances of the second half fell to Johansen and Forrest and, if either of those had gone in, then we would have achieved a well deserved win. In fact, by about half way through the second half my nerves disappeared as I admired the team that Ronny is building. And I didn’t hear Sutton say he was worried once!!
A massive well done to Ronny, the players and all the back room staff for getting the preparation and tactics right. Great to see so many fans there too.
On to the play-offs!
Use Code SAVENOW for an extra 15% off at Checkout!