An excellent result against a team 21 games into their season with an impressive home European record.
We started brightly with loads of possession and the home team not threatening. That all changed though with their first corner when Logvinenko was given a free header to score an easy goal. Very poor from the defence with the Astana player running in between O’Connell and Gordon to score. Astana then started to show why they are such a strong team with Twumasi looking particularly impressive . I’ve never seen KT get skinned before but this guy has some pace, though his theatrics detracted from his talents. The first half then reverted to a typical European away performance with Gordon being kept busy while we struggled to keep possession. There was, however, one crucial difference …..Paddy Roberts. Whenever he got the ball he caused them problems but his final ball want quite there. We seemed to have a good shout for a penalty when Dembele was challenged in the box but the Italian referee (who gave us nothing all night) waved play on. He also gave Roberts no protection as he was repeatedly fouled without a yellow card being produced.
In the second half Astana again and had the best chances with Gordon saving us several times but the team did seem to be growing in confidence. Bitton made a huge difference to our midfield when he came on and helped to calm things down. In fact all three substitutions by Rodgers were important as Forrest had the beating of their full back and Rogic had more of an impact than McGregor who was unusually quiet. Roberts tenacity to win the ball back was noticeable throughout the game and it paid dividends when he dispossessed Shomko on their bye line and cut the ball back to LG. One chance……one goal! Late on we almost conceded again with another free header being allowed in our six yard box but we were basically comfortable.
There were many pleasing things about our performance today but a special mention must go to O’Connell who grew into the game and was outstanding in the second half. Efe had some positional issues but didn’t cost us in the way he often does. The tactical fluidity of Rodgers was again evident with a 3-5-2 morphing into a 4-4-1-1 when we didn’t have the ball. Later, when Dembele went off, we seemed to be almost playing a 4-1-4-1 though it can be hard to tell from the TV.
Last time we came home from the old Soviet block with a 1-1 draw it ended up going to penalties and Boruc under a sea of players (and Tommy Burns!). Let’s hope we can get through more comfortably than that next week!
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