Scottish football isn’t as bad as pundits make out if Wednesday night’s result for Celtic is anything to go by. Despite many giving the Scottish champions no hope against Manchester City, who finished fourth in the English Premier League last season, Brendan Rodgers’ side delivered a result that stunned their doubters.
Pundits with tunnel vision claimed that City would hammer Celtic, just as Barcelona did in the previous round. But at Celtic Park, many a side have arrived as potential conquerors only to limp away to think again.
Over the course of eight Champions League campaigns, Celtic have lost just three home games out of 24 – those being against AC Milan and twice against Barcelona. They drew five times and won 16 – which includes wins over Barcelona and Manchester United.
But the likes of Danny Baker, Robbie Savage and their like, only had eyes for City and showed up the continued nonsense surrounding the English game as some sort of glorious beacon of world football – not to mention their ignorance where the Scottish game is involved.
City have a plethora of world talent on their books thanks to the multi-millions invested by their Oil-rich Middle Eastern owners, their team cost a reported £400 million-plus and on paper they should really have won the game by a significant margin, however as we all know football isn’t played on paper and Celtic showed with a team built for around £20-30 million, that they could cause an upset.
Boosted by a partisan crowd of over 55,000 in Glasgow, Celtic took the game to City and leaving Pep Guardiola’s side and their fans stunned. After just three minutes Celtic had opened the scoring through Moussa Dembele – a £300,000 purchase from Fulham in the summer –that lead wasn’t to last long as City equalised eight minutes later through Fernandinho.
But rather than drop back and feel sorry for themselves, Rodgers’ side pushed forward looking to take the lead again and neat passing from Celtic saw the City goalscorer nutmegged by Bitton on the half way line before the Israeli played the ball to in-form Aussie Tom Rogic. As the playmaker neared the City 18 yard box he laid off a perfectly-weighted pass into the path of youngster Kieran Tierney who struck a goal bound effort in off the outstretched foot of Raheem Sterling. It may have been somewhat fortuitous, but Celtic didn’t care.
City were in shock, pundits were shocked and European football was amazed at Celtic’s sheer ignorance of who their opponents were. Guardiola’s City were chasing a record of 11 games won in all competitions and with the game not even half way through the first 45 minutes, City knew they were going to find it tough.
With City trailing 2-1, the English side pushed forward again in the hope of securing their second equaliser of the night and thanks to some poor play at the back for Celtic, Raheem Sterling made up for his own goal by turning brilliantly inside the Celtic box to fire past the helpless Craig Gordon.
Celtic Park was bouncing at half-time, but there was an expectation that Celtic would not have enough in the tank and be well beaten in the second half, once again though the Scottish champions had other ideas.
Just a minute into the second half and Celtic were in the lead again. Great play down the left between Bitton and Tierney saw the full back fire an inviting cross into the City box, where Dembele pounced. The striker with his back to goal turned and hooked a shot past Bravo in the City goal to send the Celtic supporters delirious for the third time on the night – but just like the two previous times, the lead was shortlived and Nolito popped up to level the tie once again.
Celtic began to run out of steam after the hour mark and that invited City onto them, but through sheer will power and determination Brendan Rodgers’ side held on to secure a valuable point which no one gave them a hope of securing.
It was a statement of intent from Celtic, that at home, they will take the game to their opponents, no matter who they are or how much their team is worth.
The result, just like the 2-1 win over Barcelona a few years back, sent waves across football and the media not only in the UK but in Europe and beyond. If Celtic can do that with the meagre revenue they get from playing in Scottish football, what could they do with the riches of the English Premier League?
Manager Brendan Rodgers was honest in his comments post-match when he said that Celtic would be a threat to any side in the Premier League and that no clubs in the top tier, Championship or League One would want to see their chance of winning promotion, European football or the title put at risk because of Celtic.
Wednesday’s result also sent a two fingered message to German media outlet Bild, who claimed that clubs like Celtic didn’t deserve to be in the Champions League. Not only that, the silence from those pundits who claimed they would get hammered, was deafening. Danny Baker disappeared only briefly talking about the Newcastle game, Robbie Savage went back to his mirror to perfect the Cameron Diaz look from ‘There’s Something about Mary’ and the impending mock tweets from Rangers fans rabid at the thought of Celtic getting hammered were quickly deleted in a mass huff as knuckles were battered off their keyboards.
Before the group stages kicked off, Celtic never looked like beating Barcelona and Manchester City to first and second spot, and honestly, I doubt they are of the opinion that they can do it now.
Third spot and the battle with Borussia Monchengladbach was always the goal for Celtic and with a double header against the Germans up next, Rodgers’ side can stamp their authority with a win at home and potentially a draw away.
The past three years of European football under Neil Lennon and latterly Ronny Deila was somewhat disheartening for the Celtic support, but under Rodgers – minus the away defeat to Lincoln Red Imps and the hammering by Barcelona – Celtic have got a belief about themselves again and it is great to see. Great for Celtic fans, but maybe not for those domestically as the Scottish champions are already four points clear with a game in hand, from their nearest title challengers Aberdeen.
Only time will tell what Celtic can do in the remaining fixtures in the group, but the City performance certainly saw a number of people take not and realise that maybe they aren’t the cannon fodder that so many thought or had hoped.
For Celtic, it is back to relative obscurity with a league game on Saturday against Dundee at Dens Park, while City – licking their wounds from Wednesday night – have a tough league encounter with Spurs on the Sunday at The Lane.
This is the beauty of football, would we have it any other way?