FLYERALARM ADMIRA WACKER, the Austrian Bundesliga strugglers, gave league leaders FC Red Bull Salzburg a massive fright yesterday. Celtic’s opponents next Thursday got off to the perfect start when Moanes Dabour – the man Celtic need to keep quiet – opened the scoring after just five minutes.
However Flyeralarm Admira Wacker’s Patrick Schmidt scored for the home side either side of half time to shock the Austrian Champions and run-away league leaders. They couldn’t hold on though for a famous win with Hannes Wolf grabbing an equaliser.
The match finished 2-2 and it leaves Flyeralarm Admira rooted at the bottom of the league on 11 points. Salzburg are way out on top on 45 points – having secured 14 wins and 3 draws from their 17 games and their nearest challengers are LASK who have just 31 points.
Rapid Vienna, who play the Rangers at home Thursday evening in the early kick off, are in fifth spot in the Austrian Bundesliga with 24 points. Their record so far this season in the league is 7 wins, 3 draws and 6 defeats.
What seems clear is that Salzburg are a very decent side, particularly offensively, but are perhaps a little more venerable at the back. The Austrian strugglers were only denied going 3-1 ahead yesterday thanks to a winder save for the Salzburg keeper.
If Celtic are strong at the back then there should be plenty of opportunities at the other end of the park, especially after the stunning performance from The Bhoys yesterday against a decent Kilmarnock side – who actually played quite well but were simply blown away by a rampant Celtic team.
One man who will be key to that happening is Jozo Simunovic who has started the last two games with Dedryck Boyata being sidelined after picking up a knock in the Betfred Cup Final win over Aberdeen.
Simunovic is relishing being back in the side and playing alongside his fellow Croatian Filip Benkovic – who he calls his ‘wee brother – and Thursday night is a perfect opportunity for him to lay down his own credentials for a regular place in the team by turning in a rock solid performance.
If the Celtic defence can keep the visitors out, Celtic are in the knock-out stages of the Europa League.
Given the nature of both teams though a goalless night seems one of the least likely of all outcomes. This is a game with goals written all over it.
Simunovic, looking forward to to Thursday, knows just how important a match it is for Celtic. It will be a tall order to inflict a first defeat of the season on the visitors who have 24 wins and 4 draws from their 28 games in all competitions this season.
Jozo is up for the challenge and recognises that the Celtic support could play a significant role because in those 28 games they have played this season, the Salzburg players will not have experienced anything even close to what they are going to face at Paradise, under the Christmas lights, on Thursday.
“That’s a motivation for us, we want to stop their run if it’s possible.
“And if our fans can have an effect on Man City and other teams we’ve played in the past few years, I’m sure that they can have an effect on Salzburg as well. Why not?
“It’ll be an amazing atmosphere, it’s the final game in the group and it’ll be big.
“Carrying on this run in Europe would be good for us, it means a lot to get through the group stage and still be in the competition into the new year.
“So we’ll be giving everything on Thursday night to achieve that.
“It won’t be easy because Salzburg have been the best team in the group so far, for sure.
“But our stadium’s no favourite for any team to come to, and we want to win this game, simple as that.
“A draw might be enough, but we’re not thinking about that – we have to play for a win.
“Will that send out a message? It’s not about a message, it’s more about giving everything that we can give ourselves. If we give our best, we can show our best.”
Salzburg fought back from being 1-0 down to Celtic at half-time to run out comfortable winners in their home game against the Scottish Champions. All three goals could be seen as soft ones to lose, the third, a dodgy penalty could also be regarded as fortuitous to say the least.
Celtic seem a very different team these days to the one that lost in Salzburg with even the skipper Scott Brown, for so long the first name of a Brendan Rodgers team-sheet, is now likely to start on the bench.
“It will be a completely different game to that one in Austria this week. But the gaffer picks the team and he’ll pick the best players he thinks can get us the result we need to get to the next stage of the competition,” Jozo noted.
“So for sure it’s nice to have Broony back, no doubt about that – he’s the legend of this club. But the gaffer will still put the team on the park which he thinks is right, and those of us who are playing will want to win.
Simunovic is relishing playing alongside Filip Benkovic and hopes that it is going to continue.
“Benko’s a quality player, and we played a little for our last club together as well – I was with him on his debut and talking him through it!
“So this is us reunited. We know each other really well, so we just need more games to get ourselves more compact, get our understanding better, but that will come for sure.
“We’ll also study the video and know all about their players – they definitely have quality. But although Dabour scored two against us last time, again we can’t compare the game over there to the one on our field. It won’t be the same game.”
Also on The Celtic Star…
Celtic Fans TV: ‘An exceptionally high level of performance’…See HERE.
Celtic v Salzburg: ‘Attack them right from the first whistle,’ Celtic star…See HERE.
Jim Craig – Billy McNeill led Celtic up for another runners-up medal…See HERE.
‘Now, let’s show Europe the way that Celtic can play,’ David Potter…See HERE.