Celtic limber up for City with another domestic destruction
Six-goal stroll, but focus remains on goalkeeping situation as De Vries has another unconvincing day
RARELY since a ball flew from the toes of David Narey and beyond Waldir Peres during Espana ‘82 has a goal been more unlikely or punished as severely as Souleymane Coulibaly’s strike at Celtic Park on Saturday.
Kilmarnock had offered little when their striker spun on the ball 35 yards from goal and unleashed a shot that never looked to get much above crossbar height, but looked to have Dorus de Vries in trouble from the moment he struck it in spite of the Celtic goalkeeper being reasonably positioned.
Celtic’s response was even more brutal than that of one of the most stylish Brazilian teams of all time, with Moussa Dembele scoring twice in quick succession to put his side in front and take his tally for the season into double figures before the end of September.
Kilmarnock manager Lee Clark’s suggestion that the 21-year-old Ivorian’s strike is destined to be forgotten in the wake of what it provoked was meanwhile probably mistaken since the quality of the winning team’s performance was strangely over-shadowed, just as happened 34 years ago.
Then it was the erroneous judgement of English pundit Jimmy Hill that Narey had delivered a ‘toe-poke’ that meant the losing team’s solitary goal would always be remembered. This time the curiosity was that the major talking point after a team had scored six goals in 50 minutes during which they ran rampant, was their starting goalkeeper’s performance.
Brendan Rodgers defended De Vries and said that his subsequent substitution had been down to a chest injury suffered as he landed after his failed attempt to back-track and keep the ball out, but last week’s claim by the Celtic manager that he does not have a number one goalkeeper is looking ever harder to justify. That is the number Craig Gordon wears and those who believe he remains the best home-based Scottish goalkeeper will require ever more persuading that he is not also still Celtic’s.
As unreasonable as it may seem to focus on defensive matters when they were essentially so irrelevant to Saturday’s game is to miss the lesson learned earlier this month about the scale of the contrast Celtic face between their domestic task and the challenges they will meet in Europe.
At this level it is all about Celtic’s capacity to unlock defences, carrying a threat all over the pitch as they do. However there were a couple of defensive moments even before Coulibaly’s strike that the Champions League’s finest would surely have taken advantage of.
What seemed to give Rodgers most satisfaction, then, having highlighted a lack of aggression as a factor in the way they were meekly swept aside in Spain, was not so much the way they finished off their opponents as how they set about minimising the amount of possession Kilmarnock were permitted.
The extent to which that message has been taken on board was underlined afterwards by Erik Sviatchenko, their Swedish defender as he explained the relevant elements of Saturday’s performance to Wednesday’s.
“We will take our chances when we have the ball,” he said of the meeting with Manchester City.
“You also defend when you have the ball. If you give the ball away a lot it will be a long night. If we move the ball quickly it doesn’t matter who we are against, but it’s also about courage.”
As Rodgers also observed immediately before this match, in the modern game the line-up that finishes can be as significant in terms of indicating a manager’s preferences as that which started.
In taking the chance to fully rest Kolo Toure ahead of his re-match with his former club and let Sviatchenko, Jozo Simunovic and Mikael Lustig make their cases for accompanying him, his options were, then, best demonstrated by the substitutions he could make.
As well as bringing on Gordon they replaced Dembele with Leigh Griffiths, who was roundly applauded merely for warming up midway through the first half and Scott Sinclair, after his penalty strike maintained his goal-a-game run in his first six league matches of the season, with the gifted Patrick Roberts.
Griffiths, of course, buzzed around exactly as expected, creating excellent chances for Tierney and Lustig with his first two touches before nicking a classic poacher’s goal when, standing in front of Jamie MacDonald, the Killie ‘keeper, he re-directed Lustig’s on target header from a corner into the top of the goal.
Forrest had by then all but secured the win after a classy interchange with Rogic who would score the last of their six, albeit his imperfect strike only went in thanks to a MacDonald error that was rather worse than that of De Vries had been as he dived too early and let the ball roll over him. However the attitude that can stand Celtic in good stead was exemplified when Griffiths, after being brought down for the penalty that produced their fifth goal, chased off to retrieve the ball, looking for all the world as if he intended to take the spot kick, only to hand it to Sinclair to let him maintain his scoring sequence.
“It’s nice that Leigh Griffiths is back. He made a great impact,” Sviatchenko observed. “You also saw his character when he handed the penalty kick to Scott Sinclair.
“That’s what team spirit is about and this team is building every week. We have unity on the pitch.”
They will need that on Wednesday and, in all probability, thereafter in their Champions League campaign when it is their turn to have to worry about firing up the opposition.
OVER TO YOU: Leigh Griffiths, left, lets Scott Sinclair take Celtic’s penalty in order to stay on course for a club record
EMBATTLED: Dorus De Vries was beaten by a 35-yard wonder strike