Scottish sports comment: There are times in football when things just do not go according to plan. It’s the nature of the game as was certainly the case for Celtic when they came up against Juventus in the Champions League last week.
A 3-0 home defeat was not what Neil Lennon had expected, but prompted a number of talking points. Chief among these was the cynical way the Italians manhandled the Celtic players at set-pieces, notably corner kicks. Clearly they had been told to put the thumbscrews on anyone in green and white attempting to impede their goalie Gianluigi Buffon.
Though it’s now common in the professional game to have a fair bit of pull-me-push-me in the box, we are simply unused to seeing such intense and prolonged hands-on action in Scotland.
This was best summed up by Celtic boss Neil Lennon — no shrinking violet in his own playing days — who was moved to point out out that “it’s not rugby we are playing.”
The Hoops, it is true, deserved far greater protection from the Spanish referee, who did little more than nothing to stamp out these ugly tactics, but they should also know the obstruction of Gary Hooper and the rest did not lead to their downfall.
There was the torpor of a collective off night which saw shots hit only from range and silly mistakes made at the back.
Poor old Efe Ambrose, a player who had stepped off a plane from the African Nations Cup only hours earlier, took the brunt of the blame, but it was far from his alone.
More than any of this my feeling was the Scottish champions came up against a side far better equipped to move the ball with pace and accuracy into damaging areas.
At times the Serie A leaders were a joy to watch and on such a showing may find themselves at Wembley for the final in May.
Celtic have a fair way to go reach such a standard, but they can start by giving a decent account of themselves in the second leg of a tie which now amounts to a dead rubber.
Fans will expect better having done their bit. The noise and spectacle of Parkhead on a Champions League night is a real sight to behold.
Self-congratulation by the supporters at creating this first-class atmosphere should in no way sugar the bitter pill of defeat, more of being outclassed before the watching millions on live TV.
Beating Barcelona made people aware of Celtic again. Flags, banners and song can never replace the hard currency of victory on the field of play. We delude ourselves to think otherwise.
In a season of fine managerial performances throughout the SPL it would be impossible to overlook Stuart McCall. The Motherwell boss has steered his side into a clear second place after a comfortable win over Inverness at the weekend.
The only real cloud on the horizon of late for the Steelmen has been whether or not they would be able to keep the 48-year-old in harness.
McCall, just like his old Rangers team-mate Terry Butcher at Caley Thistle, has done exceptionally well under tight budget constraints in his two years since taking over from Craig Brown.
After several weeks of discussion McCall has sought to downplay any fears his time in Lanarkshire may be closing, saying he “can’t see any problems” in signing a new contract, possibly as early as this week.
That should spark delight among the Well fans who will have another foray into Europe to look forward to next season and a young squad of players who want to play the game the right way.
Still, it can’t be ignored that bigger jobs are out there and one mission he would find impossible to shy away from is taking control of his alma mater in Govan.
McCall is the right age with a proven track record, he understands Rangers inside out and he possesses the requisite tenacity which was so much the hallmark of his playing days.
Of course there is currently no suggestion of there being managerial vacancy there, but it is hard to ignore that fact that McCall has just about everything needed to manage the Gers should the chance arise.
Even those on the winning side were shocked that Glasgow were able to so comprehensively outscore Newport Gwent Dragons 60-3 last week.
Mighty congratulations are due for the size of this result is as monumental as it was unexpected.
Glasgow head coach Gregor Townsend summed this up saying: “It’s hard to get our heads round it.”
Not half, for no Scottish side had won away at the Dragons in the last five Pro12 seasons. Not only that the win was the biggest by a Scottish side home or away in the professional era.
According to Townsend they had gone to Wales expecting a tough game, but it ended up being “one of those nights when we came out with good intent in defence and attack and everything clicked.”
In short Glasgow got the basics right and managed to run in eight tries as the opposition sought a way back into proceedings.
Hard work will have been the key and the reward may end up being not only an historic one off victory, but the play-offs and a semi-final berth at home.
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