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

The Herald - Herald Sport - - LADBROKES PREMIERSHIP -

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

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