After a comfortable win at the weekend Celtic lined up this evening for the Champions League qualifier with an almighty spring in their step…helped of course by a nice 2-0 advantage and a 100% record of progression in Europe after winning an away tie.
Tonight the omens looked good.
Well at least they did until many of the fans within our stadium noticed Kelvin Wilson was in the starting eleven…if we’re being honest, most if not all of us have been less than convinced by him so far.
I had spotted his great pace and obvious athleticism but his composure, his positioning and his concentration had appeared in doubt on previous occassions, many therefore considered Thomas Rogne’s absence as something of a body-blow to our hopes.
The Champions League music set the tone, Subo had treated the magnificent home crowd to a rousing rendition of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ but it was the old classical music which really signalled ther promise land to be in sight once more.
Celtic kicked off and immediately looked comfortable in possession.
Early on, Hooper showed his deftness of touch to lay off a short and incisive pass to young Forrest. Helsingborg though had visions on unsettling our Bhoys and set to the tough job of closing our space down all over the pitch.
Commons and Mulgrew made timely challenges early on as Helsingborg threatened through neat interchange in the Celtic half.
Brown and Izaguirre also looked lively and indeed from Emilio’s teasing of the right back, it was the captain who profited and who got an early sight of goal in the fourth minute, unfortunately the shot went harmlessly over from the edge of the box.
Celtic looked keen to utilise the pace on both wings, Samaras and Forrest were set off on runs down each channel by clipped thirty yard passes over a highly positioned Helsingborg back-line; a pattern that continued all evening long.
Working hard, to the immense credit of the Swede’s, the away team began to settle and to grow into the game. For a ten minute spell, Celtic were almost constantly on the back-foot, this only served to provide Kelvin Wilson with an opportunity to show his pace, his athleticism and his new found confidence, he settled in well in the right side of Mulgrew in a flat back four.
Around the mid way stage of the first half, Celtic took control and began to play with a bit of composure, Commons, Samaras and then Hooper combined to set up a counter attack which eventually allowed Samaras to shoot towards goal. On this occassion the shot lacked both power and precision and the keeper easily held it.
Wanyama and Brown who were working tirelessly together to prevent Helsingborg from enjoying easy possession alaso linked up well and took turn at either setting up counter-attacking moves or driving on themselves at the vanguard of Celtics push for the sure to be decisive first goal.
Forrest threatened down the right in the twenty fourth minute but for a change the youngster lacked composure and his cross was too easily intercepted, his pace and power was deeply unsettling the Swedish defence however and their left back was rapidly shrinking into a defensive shell.
Brown and Wanyama, both enjoying possession, took the game by the scruff of the neck, often set up by an assured and reliable Kelvin Wilson who’s reading of the game was second to none.
Forrest wanted more of the ball and so inevitably he began to step a few yards inside of the touchline, he then in the twenty-sixth minute, powered past three defenders and just as he looked set to unleash a left footed shot, he went down under the challenge of young Baffo. The ref however was, rightly, convinced of his going down too easy and waved play on…as a home support sought the award of what would have been a soft penalty kick.
Samaras in the twenty-ninth minute hung a cross up towards the back post, the Swedish keeper had then to look lively to steer the deceptive effort over the bar and onto the roof of his net…Celtic were now moving up through the gears and looked likely to score.
From the reultant corner, Forrest drove towrds the bye-line and his cross found Samaras, who deftly touched the ball into Hoopers path.
Standing a possible half yard offside Hooper prodded the ball goal-wards, the keeper could only watch in anguish as it snuck inside his far post.
An anxious glance at the linesman later and Hooper wheeled off in celebration of a massive goal in his Celtic career. 1-0 Celtic and most importantly, 3-0 overall.
Forster did have a few saves to make, he was however sparred the necessity of matching his performance of the previous encounter when he produced save after save.
Commons started to drop ever deeper and he drew the Swedes out of shape, allowing the tempo of the game to swing ever more in Celtic’s favour.
Brown was a constant menace to the away team and through his energy Celtic appeared to be winning the midfield battle, much to the benefit of the home crowds nerves, if any now remained.
Kelvin Wilson made two great blocks in the few minutes before half-time, the crowd were rising to praise his every composed moment after the relief of the opening, nerve-calming goal, an even more detectable delight with the form of the big fella could be sensed.
Samaras threatened just on half-time to send in Hooper or Commons for an easy tap-in, his extra touch however allowed the defender to recover and the chance to wrap it all up early passed…for now!
I sensed after the half-time whistle had blown, a change was on the cards. I suspected the Helsingborg coach to make an attacking signal of intent. Much as though to confirm my theory, I noted an Ikea delivery truck to pull up on Kerrydale Street, a kitchen sink was then unloaded and taken straight into the away dressing room.
In the fifteen minutes immediately after the restart, Helsingborg did indeed go chasing the game, Wilson and Mulgrew however looked as assured as at any point in the match and effectively cleared their lines.
Djurdjic, the away teams best player, had a shot into the side netting from a tight angle and Forster had a save to make from a speculative long-range effort, that aside however Celtic looked comfortable.
In the sixty-seventh minute, young Tony Watt entered the fray in place of Samaras, he then near instantly he made a nuisance of himself and disturbed the back-line of Helsingborg.
Both Watt and Brown linked up well on a few occassions, nearly allowing Brown to claim the second goal of the night.
Lustig then came on for Matthews in the seventy-fourth minute and he settled in neatly at right-back.
Brown, who was having an exceptional evening for someone considered so dubiously for a starting role only a day or two beforehand.
Watt, Brown and Hooper all threatened to kill off Helsingborg and it was Watt who forced the keeper in the eightieth minute to save his header off the line at the back post.
Young James Forrest, not to be out-done, struck the post and intriguingly whilst clearly on-side, the ref adjourned Hooper on the rebound to be a yard off-side…his post also cannoning off the base of the Swedish keepers post.
Helsingborg attempted to rally their troops and had a few shots straight at Forster, mostly from distance, but it was Celtic who carried the real threat.
In the eight-ninth minute a corner swung in by Commons, reached the six yard line and Wanyama near unchallenged, rose to head the ball low into the near post. Game, set and match…2-0 Celtic!
McCourt came on for a late cameo and to sample the tremendous atmosphere within the ground, the home fans by that stage in full on party mode.
The old ground rocked to the sound of a jubilant home support, the final whistle signifying a long awaited return to Europes top table.
A deserved win over both legs, more importantly…mission accomplished.
At full-time I reflected on a great evenings work and a man-of-the match performance by Kelvin Wilson, happy days indeed!
Roll on half past four tomorrow afternoon and the live draw.
I for one cannot wait to watch the progression of this fine young squad, the promised land awaits them on the footballing education of a lifetime.
Celtic Team Ratings;
Forster – 6
Unspectacular, he was a virtual spectator…a deserved clean sheet bonus.
Izaguirre – 6
Still not 100%, though undoubtedly more assured with each passing game. His passing is still not of his usual standard, more to come.
Matthews – 7
Steady and reliable as ever
Wilson – 9
The stand-out player on the park, near perfect performance.
Mulgrew – 8
Strolled through the game.
Commons – 7
Good vision and hard grafting performance.
Wanyama – 8
The colossus dominated his battles all over the pitch, good header for no.2
Brown – 8
Excellent energy and drive, lead from the off and showed great maturity. Unlucky not to score.
Forrest – 8
His pace and vision caused untold damage to the Swedes defensive shape, a constant menace.
Samaras – 8
Full of running, a great days work and an assured out-ball whenever pressure mounted on the defence. Solid performer.
Hooper – 7
Hard grafting and neat and tidy, poachers instinct served him well for the opener.
Coatbridge wonder-kid has a real goal threat and a great work ethic, this lad is a a supremely talented forward. Mature beyond his years.
Lustig – 6
A decent cameo role for the Swede defender.
McCourt – 5
No time to shine, his European adventures will increase in duration I’m sure.