Henderson and Morgan impress against Stade Rennais, Sinclair’s ‘Newborn Giraffe’ Moment

CELTIC 0 Stade Rennais 0

CELTIC fans got a chance to welcome new and old faces alike in today’s friendly against Rennes at Celtic Park.

The line-up made for interesting reading pre-match. Two new signings made their debuts with Christopher Jullien coming in at centre half to partner Nir Bitton and Luca Connell taking his own bow at Celtic Park in central midfield alongside our captain Scott Brown.

Up front it was great to see Leigh Griffiths return to the fold with Ewan Henderson in behind Griffiths and flanked by Lewis Morgan getting a start on the right and Scotty Sinclair patrolling his usual left wing.

Craig Gordon also made his return in goal, emphasising Celtic have the choice of two top keepers to scrap over the gloves in the season ahead.

Anthony Ralston took up the right back slot after his omission from the Champions league encounter in Sarajevo and with new signing Boli Bolignoli rolling his ankle on Tuesday night it fell to Jonny Hayes to step in at left back.

The first half was fairly typical pre-season. The stand-out performer was Henderson picking up pockets of space and trying to link middle to front. Never scared to show for the ball it was he linking with Scotty Sinclair who created the first real opportunity. The pair linked well on the left and Henderson drove well into space and got his shot away forcing the Rennes keeper into a smart save down to his left. It was a little unlucky the break of the ball didn’t fall kindly for Leigh Griffiths but it was a good move.

Griffiths himself was lively throughout it was his industry and endeavour that forced a corner after 40 seconds. He was also unlucky his first touch let him down slightly when running onto a long ball near the end of the half as it could well have resulted in a goal scoring opportunity.

Overall there was little goalmouth action. Celtic pressed well when out of possession and forced Rennes to play on the counter, something it must be said they did well. The French side forced six first half corners mainly as a result of being so quick in their transition from defence to attack.

From those set pieces however Celtic defended well. Only a nice back heel on the touchline allowing Da Silva to check in and shoot caused Celtic any real problems but much like his opposite number with the Henderson chance Gordon was equal to it getting down smartly to save.

Notable Celtic performers in the first half were Scott Brown reading and breaking up play well. Lewis Morgan looked sharp on the right flank and Jonny Hayes tried to overlap when he could. The lack of match sharpness told with final deliveries being a little too long. You couldn’t help but think Neil Lennon would be looking for a little more quality in the final third second half.

Defensively Celtic looked solid. Rennes did force a few corners but the defence looked strong, in particular Nir Bitton and debutant Christopher Jullien strolled through the game.

Jullien did very well at the end of the first half to get across to block a Rennes attempt from distance, forcing yet another corner, but the standout of the two central defenders was Nir Bitton. Worryingly he went down under no real pressure holding his knee in the 42nd minute. Bitton didn’t look happy and didn’t finish the half, as Celtic chose to wait for the break and not make an immediate change.

On to the second half and a couple of changes at the break as McGregor picked up the armband and his spot in central midfield from Captain Scott Brown. Stephen Welsh also replaced the injured Nir Bitton. Hopefully a precaution with nothing at stake but a concerning one all the same.

Rennes replaced almost their entire side at the break and started sharply. Now pushing higher up the pitch they clearly saw opportunity at putting the Celtic defence under early pressure.

This almost paid off immediately when some slack play on the right of defence saw Craig Gordon pressured into pulling off a sharp save. Given the space Rennes had created they really had the time to do better, but Gordon was sharp to the threat.

In 56 minutes Celtic sent on Conor Harard to replace the impressive Gordon, Christie came on for Connell. Luca had carried out the basics well and wasn’t shy at showcasing his passing range. It was a steady debut and points to a lad who has something to offer the first team.

Jullien was also replaced by Kris Ajer. The new signing had looked composed and assured on the ball. He didn’t have a lot of defending to do but what he did have to do he managed comfortably. There will be harder tests to come.

The changes saw Henderson drop deeper beside Callum McGregor as Christie advance to the number 10 role.

Straight away it made a sharp difference, Hayes broke on the left and crossed perfectly for Scotty Sinclair to have a clear header at goal, unfortunately Sinclair couldn’t quite get a clear connection and the ball flashed wide.

Rennes also had a good chance from a corner just after but despite a clear run on the ball they contrived to head over the bar with a goal surely on a plate.

The 63rd minute saw the moment where Celtic should have claimed the win.

Once again Henderson fashioned the space just inside the box laying the ball into the path of Sinclair no more than 2 yards from goal and with a keeper who looked resigned to his fate. Instead Sinclair seemed to cushion it with a first touch before performing an act somewhat reminiscent of a newly born giraffe being placed on the ground for the first time.

With arms and legs flailing the second touch that shouldn’t even really have been required failed to materialise and somehow the Rennes defence cleared their lines.

Only in a friendly could you laugh at it. Any other day we’d have had our heads in our hands. Today it simply had a comedic value. One of those cringeworthy comedic moments akin to ‘The Office’. It may be Ricky Gervais wrote the script!

From then on in there wasn’t much to shout about. Rennes had a forty yard effort that sub Hazard saved comfortably and as Rennes turned Ralston inside and out Hazard made another fine save down to his left as the Frenchmen threatened to leave Glasgow with the win.

Forrest came on for Morgan in the 70th minute and young Lewis deservedly received a standing ovation from the faithful for a fine shift.

A minute later Henderson again took it upon himself to try and create the winner. He took the ball in at the edge of the box and fell under defensive pressure, half hearted appeals for a penalty ensued but it would have been a harsh call to say the least.

After 77 minutes Scott Robertson replaced the wonderful Henderson. Dembele came on for Sinclair and Griffiths received the second standing ovation of the day when he was replaced by Edouard.

Griffiths deserved it. Though he was empty by the hour mark, he showed his will is there and the quality is likely to follow. A tireless shift from our returning talisman.

Late on saw Ajer block from a Rennes chance after a Ralston tackle in the box. The resultant corner thankfuly came to nothing.

The final changes saw Grant Savoury and Calvin Miller replace Anthony Ralston and Jonny Hayes.

There was enough time for Karamoko Dembele to be a little too flash at the edge of his own area allowing Rennes to pounce. Conor Hazard let him know there is a time and a place after the shot flashed wide. A lesson I hope the wee man takes on board. Time and place and all that. The edge of your area is neither of those things.

There was one final chance as Christie fed Odsonne Edouard who’s chip to the back post was cleared off the line. It would have been a nice way to finish. The truth of the matter was a draw was a fair result. In fact 0-0 reflected the game even more.

A good defensive display against a fine counter attacking opponent. That we created so little will be a concern but there is plenty time to put it right.

Top man. Ewan Henderson. Best player on the park until he was replaced by Scott Robertson

Top Sinner. Scotty Sinclair’s Bambi on ice impersonation when missing from two yards out. No words.

Niall J

About Author

The Celtic Star founder and editor, who has edited numerous Celtic books over the past decade or so including several from Lisbon Lions, Willie Wallace, Tommy Gemmell and Jim Craig. Earliest Celtic memories include a win over East Fife at Celtic Park and the 4-1 League Cup loss to Partick Thistle as a 6 year old. Best game? Easy 4-2, 1979 when Ten Men Won the League. Email editor@thecelticstar.co.uk

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