Smells like Team Spirit
Usually the aftermath of a European home game where Celtic have lost 3 cheap goals in the first 45 minutes is frosty to say the least but there was a strange air of defiance about Celtic Park last night as the fans exited the stadium after a pulsating encounter with Inter Milan. Yes, Celtic’s young side gave away goals of the softest variety you’ll find at this level but there was no disguising the spirit Deila’s team showed in adversity. This developing young team refused to buckle when we all feared the worst after 13 minutes and two eminently preventable goals. I believe the rudderless team which started against Legia Warsaw in August at Murrayfield would not have fought back in the manner Celtic did last night. This Celtic team has certainly improved since then and while there is a long way to go before they are again Champions League quality, there are clear signs that they are on the right road.
Deila’s training methods and demands that players be fit enough to play the high tempo modern game are paying dividends. Possession of the ball is improving and most reports suggested it was around 50-50 last night. This was against a useful if not brilliant Serie A side who demonstrated instant control, accurate passing and a refreshing attacking approach to the game. Celtic had impressive displays from Brown and the maturing Biton in midfield but the whole side was full of running and energy. Gary MacKay-Steven and Stuart Armstrong ran to the point of being out on their feet and must be wondering about the changes that have occurred in their careers this last month. Just four weeks ago they appeared for Dundee United away to St Mirren in front of 2511 fans. Last night they ran out to a wall of noise from 60,000 inside Celtic Park. They did not look out of place and it may be that the signing of these two talented young Scots will be an excellent piece of business for Celtic.
Celtic fans know that Europe in the harshest testing ground and we don’t fool ourselves that our team is as yet the finished article. We expect effort and spirit from all who wear the green and white shirts and we got it last night. That’s why the fans were buoyant leaving the stadium, they know this tie is not yet settled and Deila will motivate the team to try and get at Inter again. It is no exaggeration to say that Celtic had the Italians on the ropes at times last night and only poor finishing and suicidal defending stopped the team claiming a famous victory. If the team can eliminate these self-inflicted wounds they will take a fair bit of stopping. Roberto Mancini was polite and measured as always with his remarks about the game stating that Inter now had ‘just a small advantage’ and it’s clear he knows there is work to be done in the San Siro. Deila on the other hand recognises the task facing Celtic but also has some hope:
“It’s going to be very tough. We have to be a little bit lucky and we have to put together the best team performance we have done so far under my command but it is possible and we are looking forward to the game. I believe we can score in the San Siro but we can’t concede as many as we did tonight. We will have chances to score but defensively we have to be much better than we were here.’
Whatever happens in Italy next week, Celtic Park was again shown all over Europe as a venue which matches the best around for atmosphere, passion and drama. The noise from the Celtic supporters was incredible last night and they didn’t desert the team when things started so bleakly. From that magnificent display by the Bhoys of Section 111 to that rousing chorus of ‘You’ll never walk alone;’ from the chanting of Craig Gordon’s name at his moment of despair to that thunderous ovation for the team at the end of the game, the Celtic supporters were once again magnificent. That bonding with the team is helping the players on the park progress and the pattern of play we are seeing is now more effective and sustained than was the case. I have some optimism for the game in Italy but I’m realistic to know that it remains a country in which Celtic have never won a competitive game despite playing there 10 times in our history. Of course records are made to be broken and we’re overdue some luck there but it will be a big ask. That said the thousands of Celtic fans heading to Milan do so with some hope but equally Inter will feel that 3-3 away from home was a good result and will be confident of completing the job at home.
Ronny Deila is correct to state that Celtic need luck and a complete absence of the horrendous defending we saw at times last night to stand a chance of progressing. Red Bull, Zagreb, Maribor and Astra have all benefitted from poor Celtic defending in a season which must surely be a record for European goals conceded? (I make it 22) Mancini’s Inter side are not the best Italian side we’ve faced in recent years but they created a few good chances at Celtic Park and are a capable team on their day. They do however look brittle in defence and one wonders how they’d react to Celtic scoring first. The Inter supporters are known for getting on their own team’s back when things are not going well. Celtic should to go to the San Siro with no fear and play their game. We remain big underdogs but if they can eliminate the unforced errors from their game they will have a fighting chance.
Meanwhile, the feeling that Ronny Deila is creating something good at Celtic Park is growing. There were some who wanted him out back in the dog days of Summer but all managers deserve a year at least to create their own team and pattern of play. Ronny is winning over the doubters and developing a feeling for Celtic which we see in his post victory ‘roars.’ Didier Agathe was once asked about some Celtic fans shouting at him to get forward more in certain games. He responded much to the surprise of the reporter who asked the question by saying, ‘Sometimes it is because they care too much about their club.’ Deila understands more now about what Celtic means to so many and perhaps it’s rubbing off on him.
All good teams are imbued with the sort of spirit we saw last night and it’s an encouraging sign that the team refused to give up despite that appalling start. When we lose 3 dreadful goals at home and the fans go home singing, something must be going right.
Smells like team spirit.