LAST Wednesday night the Bosnian Champions Sarajevo visited Celtic Park on Champions League qualification duty, this Wednesday it’s the turn of the Estonia Champions Nomme Kalju, who hopefully will meet the same fate as our earlier opponents. This is round two of four, Celtic will be expected to take care of Nomme Kalju who you would perhaps expect to have lost to Sarajevo had they been drawn together.
Tough tackling but highly organised Sarajevo were perhaps the most difficult First round opponent Celtic have had in these qualifiers that UEFA insist on for the Scottish Champions, a former winner of the European Cup.
Matt Corr yesterday outlined Celtic’s long and winding road to the Champions League group stages and looked at what could happen along the way and who we could face at each stage. This year Celtic will want to avoid the disastrous results against a poor AEK Athens side – that had more to do with what was going on behind the scenes at Celtic than anything else. Read Matt’s excellent piece HERE.
Scott Bain failed to keep a clean sheet in either of the ties against the Bosnian Champions, although he could have done very little to prevent each goal. Both came from mistakes in a Celtic defence which still needs time to gel and has some players filling in out of their usual position as an inevitable consequence of the squad upheaval as players left the club and new recruits come in when deals have been concluded.
The next expected arrival this week, subject to a medical and a work permit being granted, is Hatem Abd Elhamed who is expected to revert to his right back role, he moved from full back to central dance over the past two years at Hapoel Be’er Sheva. His club in Israel have thanked him and wished him well for his time at Celtic – see HERE.
Christopher Jullien, the £7million signing from Toulouse, has yet to be integrated into the heart of the defence after having a longer summer break than his new teammates – welcome to life in Paradise, big man!
Kris Ajer, surely a first pick starter this season, has been filling in at right back in the absence of anyone else other that Anthony Ralston, who is perhaps seem as remaining a work in progress by Neil Lennon. Ralston had a brief purple patch in the side in the intense fixture list last December and perhaps gets a harder time than it deserved.
Hatem Abd Elhamed probably isn’t the only right back that will be arriving at Celtic before the transfer window closes at the end of next month, and remember the English window closes on 9 August.
By that time Kieran Tierney should be fully fit and we’ll know whether he will be a Celtic player of has been transferred to England for at least £25million. Boli Bolingoli Mbombo, our £3millon signing from from Rapid Vienna, played at left back in both games against Sarajevo and looked promising, although it was his error that allowed the Bosnian Champions to grab their glory moment at Celtic Park. Callum McGregor sorted out that minor set-back though.
Jozo Simunovic has been linked with a £5million move to Lille, a side that because of their higher than usual league position last season and nothing else – they won nothing – walk straight into the Group stages as a Pot 4 team, where they could face Celtic IF we make it through, as we will be in Pot 3.
Niall J outlined the reasons why Neil Lennon should hold onto Simunovic and you can read this HERE.
Jack Hendry is perhaps the forgotten man at Celtic Park. A new arrival who seemed to get more football under Rodgers than was good for him at that time, when others were unavailable for whatever dubious reason, Henry played. It was his slowness of feet in the away game against RB Salzburg that convinced many that the boy just isn’t of the required standard to play for the Hoops. Can he be developed? Should he go out on loan? Will he be the next player to be off-loaded in the Lennon Revolution at Celtic Park?
Most supporters regard Hendry as just another bad Brendan Rodgers signing.
So that’s what in front of Scott Bain as he looks for his first competitive clean sheet of the season against the Estonian minnows. He’s also got Craig Gordon breathing down his neck looking to reclaim the number 1 jersey for himself so Wednesday is important for the goalie personally as much as for the club. Bain lost his Number 1 jersey for Scotland at the end of last season when new manager Steve Clarke opted to give it to former Celt David Marshall. Bain will be looking to win that back too.
Tomorrow UEFA will make the draw for the third round so we’ll know who will be up next should we avoid a banana skin shock against Nomme Kalju. For Bain and the entire Celtic squad, it’s absolutely crucial to get through to the Group stages this season.
“For everyone here, it’s amazing. This is a club that wants to be at that level. We want to show we can perform at that level and get the accolades we deserve. It’s massive for Celtic. We’ve got a long way to go, it’s a long route to get there but if we can get there it’s like winning another cup for us, Bain told the media on Wednesday evening after the win against Sarajevo as reported by The Herald.
“I wasn’t thinking about the Champions League when I was at Dundee but now that I am here when we played the Valencia game for me that was a Champions League team with the money they spend and pay for players and we all performed excellently, especially over there. We can all take confidence from that, although we got beat.
“That’s a top side, so it was a nice learning curve for me to say I can play at that level and standard,” Bain said.
“I think getting there is like winning a cup. We need it, we want but we will play more games to get to the Champions League than we would to win a cup in Scotland.
“It’s a good aim for us to go into every game like a cup final. The lads have achieved it before, they know how to do it. It’s just a case of taking on their experience, taking on the manager’s experience from doing it before and hopefully we can go all the way but it’s still early days.”
Bain knows that there are other quality keepers in this Celtic squad and that he is far from certain to be the confirmed number 1 choice for Neil Lennon. That jersey could just as easily end up with Craig Gordon who has never let Celtic down.
“Here I don’t think anyone with the exception of Scott Brown can say there are guaranteed to start. It’s great to have someone like that (Craig Gordon) who’s wanting to play and pushing me to make sure I am at the highest standard I can be. It’s just a case of right now of trying to put in solid performances.
“It’s only the second game, so once the cobwebs are away, once we get up and running, we’ll be flying.”
The defensive tactics are changing too. The insistence on playing the ball tippy-tappy style across our own 18 yard box is to be replaced by a flexible do it when appropriate but clear your lines when necessary approach, which will be welcomed by the vast majority of the support.
“We’ve tried to look a little bit longer on it, not invite as much pressure because it’s only two games in we are still trying to find out feet,” said Bain. “For myself, it was a good game last week where I knew what my new role would be.
“I can see and look into the second and third lines, longer passes that can take pressure off the boys and they can play further up the pitch. It’s good, another aspect of the game that I enjoy. For me, it’s great.”