On the week that the fans were silenced, the team fired a shot across the bow to Europe and their many opponents. From the first till the mid fortieth minute or thereabouts, Celtic seemed impenetrable – the pressing, marking and organisation was second to none and who knows what the second half would have held had Celtic kept that deserved lead through Gary Hooper’s opener.
The Italian’s, joint top of Serie A, started with a great rendition of the Parkhead sides usual “rabbit caught in the headlights” impression with the visitors making all the early headway. Georgios Samaras again seemed unplayable in an excellent first half display and before the lethal run and cross for Celtic’s 29th minute goal, the Greek forward had slid an inch perfect ball through for the lone Englishman to poke wide & been wrongly adjudged of a foul on Udinese’s last man after another purposeful run. In this vein of form you suspect Sammy to keep his place up until the Glasgow Derby on the 28th but these games do throw up surprise inclusions and omissions. In the second forty-five with Udinese finding their feet, they also found a way of dealing with Celtic’s number nine – mark tight and stop the runs before he gets in gear, for the most part, their tactic worked and Celtic’s main outlet was distinguished.
The saviour of the second half was undoubtedly the much ridiculed young goalkeeper, Fraser Forster. Some of his game is still very raw and requires some work, but his shot-stopping capabilities are at points world-class and other times breathtaking. With the Hoops defending becoming more ragged and tired, the giant Geordie pulled off a string of superb stops – culminating in a Di Natale double stop with the Italian’s second effort – a bullet header reached by the fingertips of an outstretched colossus returning from the far post, to the applause of his team mates and fans alike. Confidence in a goalkeeper can be vital, especially playing for a big side, and Forster has grown in stature these past weeks when he probably imagined the height of his seasons shot stopping forays was the last-minute penalty stop against Hearts last Saturday – his overwhelming and thunderous reaction to that save remains my screen saver and iconic image of the season so far.
On the day that the big top finally came down on FC Sions’ court circus appeal to be reinstated, Celtic can come away from this test with more than just learning experience. From the disastrous away night in Switzerland, the Bhoys away form has improved to the point where we are now debating how unlucky we were not to win in Italy – a great reflection on how mentally tough this team and manager can be with a little heart, belief and determination.
I was overjoyed when I heard the decision to initially let the Bhoys into the Europa League proper – standing outside Glasgow Central reading Twitter feeds and news stories after work I took it as my duty to let some of my other friends still in work, hear the news – nonchalant and negative came back the responses, to a man the fear of injury, defeat and embarrassment was a burden to great to bear, this season especially. Two defeats to a top Spanish side with some extremely dangerous household names on their books, is no real embarrassment – Celtic never again played the role of the inexperienced and vulnerable pupil. With gusto and confidence they can go into these festive fixtures at worst still four adrift of their title rivals with the thunderous roars of discontent and disbelief engulfing Ibrox.
Oh and before I forget – F**k the SFA, F**k the SNP and UEFA too!