EUROPA LEAGUE 3RD ROUND QUALIFIER.
Thurs 24th September 2020.
Riga FC 0-1 Celtic FC
Scorer: Elyounoussi (90)
Celtic will travel to Bosnia next Thursday to face FK Sarajevo in the next qualifying round of the Europa League thanks to one man, Jeremie Frimpong. Sarajevo were our opponents last season in a Champions League qualifier in which we won 3-1 at their patch but all will depend on which version of ‘Celtic in Europe’ that turn up. Last nights game against Riga, a team formed in 2014, was on a level with the performance against Ferencvaros that saw us skulk away from the riches of Champions League again. Why does this keep rearing it’s ugly head? We have been over the course enough to be able to pinpoint our frailties in dealing with opposition who on paper are inferior but always tend to be better organised and playing with hunger.
Neil Lennon started the game last night with a lineup that looked like we should be comfortable in winning with a few goals to spare but this was not to be the case. It was a performance lacking desire, confidence, quality, ability and tactical awareness. In my opinion there are too many players in our team that are happy in the knowledge that they are first team picks with no competition to their positions. Then we have the guys that believe that they should be plying their trade somewhere else and it tends to be easy to spot because of their lack of effort and body language. Our management team have to hold their hands up also with the best starting eleven, the setup and timing for substitutes all coming into question.
Early on in the first half it was obvious that Riga had watched our draw against Kilmarnock and employed the same tactics of eleven men behind the ball and two banks of defence. However they did break forward several times and Celtic managed to hold on with Nir Bitton showing his composure to clear the dangers. Duffy was looking sloppy in defence and a few stray passes was his contribution to the first half action. The game also seemed to be passing a few hooped shirts by with notable mentions to Captain Brown and James Forrest and there was little to write home about in regards of goalmouth action at either end. Celtic were dominant but sloppy at times and for all the possession we done nothing constructive.
In 34 minutes Frimpong was introduced from the bench due to an injury to James Forrest and the tricky Dutch winger wasted no time in attacking his opponents on the right. It was his liveliness and enthusiasm that seemed to jolt the Celts into action and his play was providing space and efforts in around the Riga box. One such effort on 37 minutes saw Ntcham drive a shot from distance only to see keeper Ozols save well putting it over the crossbar. A minute later a Duffy header across the box fell nicely to Bitton who fumbled and again the keeper collected. Celtic were building in confidence and on 40 minutes McGregor laid the ball onto young Frimpong in front of goal but his effort was blocked. Scott Brown managed to pick up a yellow before the break and with all the action coming from Celtic the half time whistle came too soon. 0-0
Any Celtic fan watching can be forgiven for believing a bollocking from Lennon at the break would see our Bhoys come out of the traps and firing on all cylinders. It didn’t happen and was like returning to the early part of the first half where Celtic had the possession but no bite. Christie had a couple of meek efforts easily dealt with but on 65 minutes Frimpong won a free kick on the edge of the box that saw Christie rattle a great effort that needed the keeper to parry it away. Riga’s Vladimirs Kameśs should have saw a straight red for an all out assault on Brown but the Portuguese Ref Veríssimo only flashed a yellow. Lennon was again guilty of not making a change sooner and waited until 72 minutes to bring on Ajeti for Ntcham.
Why a striker who has scored three goals and seems to be well suited to getting in and unlocking packed defences to score was sitting on the bench for a vital European qualification game is another poor management decision. Ajeti’s first touch of the ball nearly provided instant success with a goal when Frimpong waltzed past three players on the right and put it across the face of goal only for the ball to get tangled underneath Ajeti and the keeper again smothered the ball. Another late change saw Moi Elyounoussi take the field in place of Edouard who for me had one of his worst games in a Celtic shirt. Also worrying because he looked uninterested the whole game and looked like he was thinking of pastures greener. The game was petering out and heading for extra time when a burst from Ryan Christie on the right put the ball over the top to Frimpong who passed the ball past two Riga players to be met by a running Elyounoussi in the middle of three Riga defenders and steered the ball into the left of the net past the keeper. It was well overdue and more a get out of jail card. Relief.
Neil Lennon said in his after match interview that he was happy with our dominant performance. It was definitely dominant but he is astute enough to know the fans will not be buying into the praise and will be expecting better from our side from here on in. Lessons should have been learned after the limp performance against Ferencvaros and these players should know they are playing to an unacceptable level because they are capable of so much more. Too many times in Europe we have allowed lesser teams to knock our confidence, smell blood and expose our fears. Something big needs to change because it is affecting our status in Europe, our overall development and has huge ramifications on our financial health. We are always crying about the lack of money available to our league and TV monies but we need to make sure our own house is in order first.
As for last night, it is a win away in a knock out stage of the competition. We can be very thankful for the talents of Nir Bitton, Jeremie Frimpong and Two players who made a huge difference was Ajeti and Elyounoussi when they were brought into the game. I hope these guys make the starting 11 against Hibs on Sunday. Young Greg Taylor receives an awful lot of flak and it is unjustified because he busts his balls in every game and is a decent defender. He is definitely not a left wing back and it is the manager who is constantly asking him to play that role. I believe the kid needs a break but without sufficient cover it’s hard to see this happening. Nothing lost at the moment as we move on to Sarajevo and league games coming thick and fast. As fans we are unhappy with certain elements in our performance this season but we all want the best for Celtic and it is in our nature as such with the success the club delivers domestically. It can be fixed and nothing major seems to be at play. Hopefully we can kick on and start playing the fluid football we saw at the start of the year.
Man Of The Match: Jeremie Frimpong
12: Ozols. 9: Petersons. 19: Prenga. 21: Stuglas. 8: Rugins. 32: Natã Wachholz > Bezerra Brisola 71’. 26: Panic. 28: Djurisic. 33: Kamess. 27: Debelk > Milosevic 67’ > N’Kolo 90+1’. 10: Rodrigues Figueira
Subs: 7: Bezerra Brisola. 11: Sharpar. 16: Purins. 18: Hora. 34: Cernomordjis. 35: N’Kolo. 99: Milosevic.
1: Barkas. 6: Bitton. 4. Duffy. 35: Ajer. 49: Forrest > Frimpong 34’. 8: Brown. 42: McGregor 3: Taylor. 21: Ntcham > Ajeti 72’. 17: Christie. 22: Edouard > Elyounoussi 82’
Subs: 10: Ajeti. 11: Klimala. 14: Turnbull. 27: Elyounoussi. 29: Bain. 30: Frimpong. 44: Elhamed.