Hurdles for the Hoops
Celtic looking strong after tough run of games
A win at Ibrox, followed by an emphatic victory in Belgium, then rounded off with a 2-2 draw at home saw Celtic complete a run of three potentially tough matches in this early stage of the season.
The first major Glasgow derby of the season saw Brendan Rodgers take his side to Ibrox on 23rd September, with second half goals from Tom Rogic and Leigh Griffiths being enough to ensure victory. Enjoying the majority of possession and chances created, Celtic looked like a team destined to win this derby. Despite going in goalless at half time, the first half saw a number of chances for the Hoops. Despite probing the Rangers defence several times, no man in green and white was able to find the net.
However, in the 49th minute, a cleared Celtic corner fell to Patrick Roberts, who saw his effort on goal bounce through the defence, falling to Rogic, who quickly snatched at the chance and dispatched the ball into the roof of the net, sending the Celtic fans wild. The home side's best chance of equalising came on the hour mark, when an Alfredo Morelos header was blocked by a fantastic reaction save from Craig Gordon.
The second and final goal of the match came with 67 minutes played, Roberts playing a low through ball to Griffiths who used the element of surprise and used his less favoured right foot to drill the ball past Foderingham. Celtic's lead was doubled and the Ibrox side sensed the inevitability of Celtic's victory.
There were further chances for the Hoops to score, but they had to settle for the 2-0 victory that increased the incredible domestic unbeaten run to 57 games.
Next up was a trip to Belgium, where Celtic looked to restore some European pride, having being beaten by Paris Saint-Germain at home. This was the first match in an expected two legged fight for third place in the Champions League group. PSG and Bayern Munich are almost universally expected to finish first and second, with Celtic and Anderlecht slogging it our for 3rd and a Europa League spot. Rodgers has stated the club's target of being in Europe after Christmas this season, and the 3-0 victory in Brussels will go along way towards achieving that.
Being away from home, Celtic were the underdogs. The sloppy start in the first half saw a lot of misplaced passes and nervous moments for the Hoops faithful. Anderlecht were playing a deep defensive line, with Celtic happy to control possession, taking their time to find attacking opportunities, wary of the risk of a counter attack.
The Scottish Champions found their reward 8 minutes before half time, when Olivier Ntcham threaded a clever through pass into the path of the marauding Kieran Tierney. Taking just a moment to look up and spot the run of Leigh Griffiths, Tierney crossed a low ball into the 6 yard box, with Griffiths meeting it close to the far post, sending Celtic into the lead.
Anderlecht were quick to respond, with Sofiane Hanni making an attempt on goal with a shot from outside the box, which was saved by Craig Gordon. Celtic went in at half time knowing that there was still another 45 minutes of hard work ahead, in order to secure victory.
On 48 minutes, an opportunistic Roberts latched onto the ball after poor control from Olivier Deschacht at the edge of the Anderlecht box, before cutting inside and doubling Celtic's lead. From this point on, Celtic were in control of the match.
The icing on the cake came in the final minute of the match, when last season's player of the year, Scott Sinclair, ran onto a pass from Ntcham taking it towards the edge of the box and placing it high into the net to make it 3-0 to Celtic.
This victory puts Celtic in a very strong position to finish at least 3rd in Champions League Group B, due to the competition taking the head to head record into account.
After the euphoria of an away win in Europe, it was back to domestic duty at home, this time again Neil Lennon's Hibernian. It was a welcome return to his former home for Lennon, who received a warm reception from the home fans. Despite this, Lennon's side came close to ending Celtic's now 58 game unbeaten domestic run.
Celtic took the lead through the ever-consistent Callum McGregor, before John McGinn scored two goals to put Hibs ahead. McGinn's second came 13 minutes from time, naturally causing a lot of unrest amongst the Celtic support. With the unbeaten run at steak, it was a huge moment of relief when McGregor equalised 3 minutes later.
Scott Sinclair nearly won the game for Celtic late on in the game, but it wasn't to be and Celtic had to settle for a 2-2 draw before the international break.
Attention now turns to Dundee, today at Celtic Park, as several of the Hoops squad return from international duty. Brendan Rodgers will be keen to get his squad back together, along with hoping to put another three points on the board, as Celtic aim to make it seven untainted league titles in a row, won without EBTs or cheating.
A strong performance and a win at home would certainly help boost confidence, as another mammoth task awaits the Celtic squad in Germany the following Tuesday. Bayern Munich have a world class squad, but victory in Belgium has raised hopes. Once again, Rodgers' side will be underdogs, but every Celtic fan around the world knows you can never write us off.