Celtic 8 – Astana 4: It was Never in Doubt (honest)

Give me 8-4 before kick off last week and I would have bitten your hand off, now, somehow it seems like an anti-climactic qualification; one where from a position of great power we are now happy to have crawled over the finish line.

For long spells tonight Celtic were simply not at the races in what was an uncharacteristically all round poor team performance.  However, upon reflection, after Scott Sinclair’s fabulous equalising goal the tie was never really in any doubt, honestly.

At 5-0 from the first leg Celtic were safe in the knowledge that an Away goal would end the tie stone dead leaving Astana needing to score 7 goals to qualify at Celtic’s expense; a fact a lot of people –myself included- forgot as the game wore on.  Sinclair’s goal therefore effectively ended the game as any sort of a meaningful contest.

Astana were dead and buried after Sinclair’s goal, only someone forgot to tell them.

However, Sinclair’s goal and Celtic’s inability to defend in the second half also provided Astana with a platform to play with complete freedom and to attack at will.  6-1 down on aggregate Astana were a wounded animal playing for pride and without fear against a Celtic side who, understandably to certain degree, didn’t know whether to stick or twist.  The result; 3 goals for Astana in a 20 minute spell that turned the game, but not the tie, on its head as Celtic still held a 6-4 lead with an Away goal.  Astana were therefore left still needing to score another 3 goals in the final 20 minutes to go through, a feat that would prove to be beyond them.

In truth, the final 20 minutes played out exactly as expected with Astana, tails up and sensing that the comeback of comeback’s was on, pressed forward in search of more goals.  Celtic’s defence finally kicked in enough to repel the pressure and Ntcham and Griffiths scored breakaway goals that helped bring an air of respectability back to the nights score line.  But really, qualification was never in doubt after Sinclair’s goal.

Where the panic came from, in my opinion, was the ease with which Astana broke through the make shift defence – neither Bitton nor Ajer being regular starters at centre half – and the lack of anything positive to say about the midfield who were posted missing for almost the entire game; thus leading to not only a rare defeat but, until the late Ntcham and Griffiths goals, the possibility of an absolute hammering.  The performance of Olivier Ntcham being a rare bright spot as the midfielder oozed class once again.

Tonight’s result and performance highlighted that while Rodgers has taken this team a very long way in a very short period of time, on the European stage at least there is still an awful lot of work that needs to be done.

Griffiths slamming home Celtic’s third and adding gloss to the aggregate score. | (C) SNS

Ajer looks like a top prospect at the back but the Bitton experiment is not really working out and, with Boyata and Sviatchenko out with medium term injuries and the latter likely to be sold if reports are correct, then there is a definite need to strengthen the defence in preparation for the Group Stages.  Young South African defender Rivaldo Coetzee has reportedly signed on a 4 year deal however I have absolutely no idea what level we can expect from him and, personally speaking, I would prefer another defender in the ranks with top level experience to help shore up the back line on nights like this.

The midfield is also still in need of a player capable of doing the dirty work, grafting, ball winning and imposing themselves on the game.  Scott Brown is good at doing this domestically but has been found wanting on too many big European occasions, tonight unfortunately being another.  Ntcham has added class and guile to the midfield but a ‘water carrier’ type player alongside him would compliment his talents further.

It also goes without saying that another striker is needed if, for no other reason, than as a back up and alternative option to Griffiths and Dembele, when fit, and to relieve the constant goal scoring burden from them.  The fiasco of the facing Rosenborg in the previous round without a striker is one that should be avoided in future and as such a third striker should be brought into the fold.

Thankfully it looks as though Paddy Roberts will be returning to Paradise on another loan deal to provide a further creative attacking option and add some real quality to the front line for the upcoming European campaign.

While it is unlikely that Celtic will reinforce in all areas outlined above we now at least 30 million reasons to think that there will be new additions to the squad before the transfer deadline as, after all, This is How it Feels to be in the Champions League.



4 thoughts on “Celtic 8 – Astana 4: It was Never in Doubt (honest)

  1. Ajer looked comfortable until the 2nd half when he had to try and cover Lustig and Biton’s positions too. Broonie caught in possession too many times in 2nd half.

    1. On Ajer – I think he looks like a top prospect. I have a mate from Norway who was raving about him before we signed him, rates him as a better prospect than Odegaard – whatever happened to him btw? Given time and games he will become a first team regular, I’m sure.
      On Broonie – I agree again. For me he struggles at times in the European games and is often found out as the opposition are generally better equipped to capitalise on his mistakes than in the domestic game.

  2. Did you actually watch the game? Ntcham was the outstanding player on the park and Celtic bossed the game for 70 of the 97 mins tonight. Were we slack and was it nervous? Yes but that was because it could have been the biggest turn around ever in CL. Who made mistakes and who were subbed to ease the tension? JF had two or three good moments but does he do enogh? He let the full back bomb down and put crosses in at will. CM IS good when we are ahead and did well for 25 mins. Once you are up against it they disappear. BROONIE had one of his best games tonight but as he often does wants to Lord it and we got punished. Second goal all his fault and this gave Astana momentum. Third goal KT did not cover Nir when he was covering centre of area. IT had no one near him and should have done better. 4th goal. IT got caught up the park. Him and BROONIE should have cleared punt from keeper but did not. Nir covered and should have done better but KT had run his race by then and was blowing. Craig should have done better as Lustig had covered all other options but maybe finish was exquisite. Centre backs not the main issue. Ps ref was poor.

    1. Hey mate, thanks for commenting even although we disagree on some matters – that’s what this is all about.
      I’ll try and answer your points as best I can:
      Yes, I watched the game at my local CSC in Budapest.
      I agree that Ntcham was our outstanding player – said as much in the article – and that he was the best player on the park; the guy is class, so comfortable on the ball and has a great range of passing.
      I disagree that we bossed the game for 70 mins though. We dominated possession but, in my opinion, we didn’t looked settled or in control for long spells and made too many elementary errors hence, as you pointed out, why certain players were subbed off. We gifted an average Astana side too many chances through slack play, were punished 4 times but if we do the same against better opposition we’ll end up getting embarrassed – fortunately I think this is a one off due to circumstance of having the tie pretty much sown up after the 1st leg.
      JF doesn’t do enough for me in attack or defense but at the moment is the best option we have on the right of the attack and is capable of brilliance – see goal v Rosenborg.
      On Broony – I like him, he’s a very good player on his day and rarely hides but is not good enough to LORD it over opponents as he wants. Again, in my opinion, this detracts from his overall game; if he just stuck to doing the simple things then he’d save us a lot of heartache and as you say he pretty much cost us two goals last night. Sorry, but on the big stage I demand better from my captain, all too often in Europe his slack passing, over confidence, and rashness have cost us.
      Defence in general was poor last night but my main point was that playing Ajer and Bitton there together at this level won’t cut it. I think Brendan knows this and is looking for another centre back to play alongside Simunovic. But you are 100% correct that neither centre back was overly helped out by their respective full back at the goals. As for the 4th goal, yeah maybe it’s a good finish but Gordon should not be beaten like that at his near post.
      Cheers again for the comment, basically we’re on the same page but seeing it slightly differently.

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