Remember, remember, the 4th of November…at least that is how the saying would go if not referring to Guy Fawkes ill-fated attempt to blow up the houses of Parliament in London.
Today both Dundee United and Celtic served up some tasty fayre in an encounter which had just about everything that a spectators heart could handle.
They said, and no doubt since they’ve been wrong the whole time they will continue to say, that our game was done for, that the SPL was dead, that the competitiveness was a thing of the past (I’ll come back to that hypocritical statement later) and that clubs wouldn’t survive, that any decent players would desert our game in their masses and that fans would also be chased away.
Going on not just today, but on the season thus far, I’d say that the prophets of doom in the media and of those who represent a Govan based Rangers tribute act, must be pig-sick of eating their words…the game here seems never to have been stronger nor more exciting, the product on show has if anything risen in stock, if of course measured in entertainment value.
Long gone are the days where every club in the league simply replicated Rangers own brand of anti-football each and every time they squared up to Celtic. Now clubs seem willing to battle it out, free of any inhibitions of old.
Today proved conclusively my point.
The day started with Celtic having rested a few players, Hooper, Ambrose, Forrest and Samaras were all out for a variety of differing reasons but Hooper and Ambrose most certainly appeared to have been rested with the midweek tie against Barcelona in mind.
Watt and Rogne filled those positions, Scott Brown however kept his spot in the first XI. Celtic most certainly hadn’t opted for a weakened side, a gesture in keeping with Neil Lennon’s respectful attitude towards the other SPL sides.
The game started brightly enough, not many clear-cut opportunities fell either way during the first twenty or so minutes but gradually a pattern emerged and with it Celtic appeared the dominant outfit.
Brown, Commons, Ledley, Wanyama and Mulgrew all seen lots of the ball, Tony Watt ran the lone strikers role effectively and looked dangerous.
The Celtic midfield were composed and played some lovely intricate passing football, United though showed great tenacity and no shortage of belief.
The game was entertaining enough, United certainly hadn’t purely ‘shut-up-shop’. Dundee United had clearly as the first half drew to a close restricted Celtic’s opportunities on goal but more so they had begun to embark on an attacking philosophy of their own int hose latter stages of the first half.
Ambrose had of course, replaced the injured Thomas Rogne, who had limped off with what looked like a calf strain midway through the first half, no team however felt the need to tactically re-shuffle their pack…the game was only lacking a goal to liven up the proceedings.
Half time brought about no further changes, both teams continued to believe in the ability of their respective first picks.
Early in the second half, actually straight from kick-off in fact, Celtic burst through on goal.
Tony Watt on the edge of the box held up play intelligently and Emilio Izaguirre burst through on goal, his shot clipped the outside of the keepers near post and simultaneously the side netting, many within the ground actually thought the ball had hit the back of the net, so close was the effort.
Sadly, that burst through on goal had stretched Emilio’s tight muscles and he appeared to pull a hamsting. His game now prematurely ended, he was replaced by the much maligned Miku.
United took full advantage of the period when Celtic were forced to re-shuffle their pack and such was their attacking mindset that they dominated possession and goal-mouth action for the next 15 or 20 minutes.
Indeed, Celtic were fortunate not to have conceded during the period of utter United dominance and Miku who had replaced Izaguirre barely got a sight, never mind touch of the ball.
A succession of chances for the home team went begging, Fraser Forster and his defenders could it seemed get no respite from constant, wave after wave of United crosses and corners, free-kicks and shots at goal.
Young Armstrong on the United left was giving Adam Matthews as hard a time as any player I can remember. I actually hoped he was set to be replaced when I seen Gary Mackay-Stevens getting readied for action, sadly not.
Then after 20 minutes of rear-guard action, Celtic broke up the park and Young Tony Watt fed a lovely through ball to Miku Fedor, his first touch was sublime, his second saw him cut in past two United defenders and gave him a sight of goal.
Calmly and with great skill he clipped the ball over the keeper, having delayed the strike long enough to force the keeper to first commit himself. A cheeky and classy moment, the relevance of this being his first goal in a Celtic shirt clearly wasn’t lost on him either as he got booked for his enthusiastic celebrations among the travelling support.
Celtic then had another spell whereby they seized control of the match, United though were never far behind and certainly hadn’t folded to Celtic will-power.
United brought on Rudi Skacel, this bringing me to the earlier statement about a dramatic excodus of talented players and the lack of strength in teams out with Celtic…fiction, pure fiction.
Like Aberdeen had secured McGinn, United added Skacel to their already well preserved squad. In fact if you scrutinised the palying squads of most SPL teams, very few are weakened, certainly not considerably so. My guess is that most have added a bit of strength to their squad not perhaps through star signings but by retaining their better players and by encouraging youth development yet further.
Anyway I digress, the game remained competitive, Dundee United versus Celtic circa season 2012-2013 more than matches the quality of the respective fixture in any year in which Rangers, now deceased, also featured in the league set-up.
Celtic attacked in the hope of killing the game, in the 80th minute that aim appeared to have been fulfilled.
Miku pressured a pass-back and after a woeful clearance which landed straight at bhoy-wonder Tony Watt’s feet 30 yards from goal, he ran at the back-pedalling defenders, went one-on-one and lashed an unstoppable shot past the keeper.
2-0 Celtic and with only ten minutes to go, it looked like game over…OOOPS!
United to their eternal credit, dusted themselves down and threw caution to the wintery wind, it never appeared likely to have the desired effect until the very last-minute of normal time.
A shot on goal was only pushed out as far as the edge of the box, Gary Mackay-Stevens advanced on to the rebound and calmly lifted his side-footed effort into the roof of the net.
United now had grabbed themselves a foot-hold in the match, late in the day admittedly.
The home team pressed desperately through three added on minutes, during which a dangerous cross from the United left required the intervention of Ambrose, unfortunately for the big defender he was at full stretch to reach the high driven cross, he leapt and put all the contact he could muster on the cross. The ball however continued with such pace and a new-found direction having been aided by the defenders contact, the direction sadly was goal-bound and the ball nestled in the far corner of Forsters goal.
2-2 and with time almost up, the excitement and heartache were of equal measure for both sets of fans.
Celtic tried in the little of time remaining to pull a victory from the wreckage of this once-was victory, sadly it wasn’t to be.
2-2 it ended and the points were shared.
Celtic are not top of the league in early November, the game lacks no edge of competitiveness, the fans are delighted at the clubs progress in Europe and are for now more willing to accept a few dropped points in domestic competition.
I never like to see Celtic beaten or even to drop points but if I am honest, this is exactly the kind of competitive league which will best develop our younger players and to prepare them for the rigours of the many challenges which lie ahead.
I am sure our class will prevail and that we’ll add at least a few domestic trophies to our cabinet by the end of the season, when we do, we should remember, remember the fourth of November…days like today are sure to keep us interested in the product and to provide the jealous, doom-mongering fans of Deceased FC with yet another bitter pill to swallow.