Toothless Swedes downed by cruise control Celts

Posted by Andy Muirhead

Mark Runnacles/Getty ImagesA Kris Commons goal gave Celtic the advantage over Elfsborg in their Champions League third-round qualifying tie.

Wednesday night's game was no epic encounter; in fact, it will be quickly forgotten among the archives of European football at Celtic Park. Celtic's 1-0 win over Elfsborg was enough, a victory to put Celtic in the driving seat ahead of the return leg in Sweden and a clean sheet to boot. But, the performance was certainly not up to par for many of those Celtic players on the field.

- Commons gives Hoops slender lead

All the pre-match talk focused on Mo Bangura playing against Celtic -- from whom he is on-loan -- and during the match he caused enough trouble at the back for Kelvin Wilson without doing any damage. Maybe all the bluster from Celtic and Neil Lennon was more to unsettle the player than anything else. Either way, the first half of the game saw Bangura looking to prove a point. His movement was good, his strength on the ball was good and even his link-up play and running at the Celtic defence was good. Maybe his stint in Sweden has done him a world of good, but for all that running about, bluster and the feigning being battered in the face by Wilson in the second half -- Bangura was as I had expected and said in my previous article -- not worth the hassle of so much publicity.

Did he deserve to be booed by the Celtic fans? He is after all a Celtic player first and foremost, but Elfsborg pay a proportion, if not all of his wages while he is on-loan, therefore he was duty bound to play for the Swedish side. At the end of the day, the media focused on the Bangura story as a means to an end -- focusing on the potential scenario of Bangura scoring the winning goal at Parkhead or even in Sweden in the second leg, to sell more copies of their newspapers.
After the match, Lennon said: "I know the scoreline might not look the best but the clean sheet was vital and I would have taken any kind of lead. That's our first quality competitive game and you could see there was a bit of rust -- that's understandable. We got stronger as the game went on and maybe deserved a bigger victory."

"I said at half-time 'I'll take one-nil'. They were making life very difficult for us. You have to break them down, you have to be patient. You could see we were snatching at things at times and our final ball wasn't there at times. Overall, the attitude of the players was fantastic and I thought the crowd were great as well."

Cannot disagree with much of Lennon’s comments about the match, but there were certainly a few nervy moments especially when Elfsborg hit the crossbar, it shook the woodwork but it also seemed to shake the team for a while. But as Lennon said, the clean sheet was the most important aspect of tonight's game; the return leg will force Elfsborg into attacking Celtic thus opening up the areas of the pitch in which they had parked the bus in at times on Wednesday night. It will allow Celtic’s wide men and strikers to penetrate, harass and exploit.

While most of the players on the pitch were hit and miss tonight, one stood out and he seems to be making it a regular occurrence of late -- Georgios Samaras. The big, long-haired Greek was everywhere. He ran himself into the ground with his mazy run, his penetrating bursts of speed and jinky between several defenders at a time. And for his troubles he got battered, booted and fouled throughout the match -- a clear sign that he was a problem for the Swedish side.

If he gets over those kicks and bumps, which seemed to take its toll eventually on the striker as the game wore on along with his work rate, then the second leg of the tie will be Samaras' for the taking.

Elfsborg are a decent side; you have to be to win the Swedish championship, but are they better than Celtic? Definitely not. They failed to really trouble Celtic and if their performance tonight was anything to go by, Celtic should do the job over the North Sea with relative ease -- of course they will still have to see out the game and get that valuable away goal.

Celtic may have been in cruise control doing a steady 30mph, but when they dispatch Elfsborg after the second leg, they will need to up their game. Wednesday night's game showed that Celtic are missing Gary Hooper and Victor Wanyama. Baram Kayal is not the man for the job in Europe and neither is Anthony Stokes. Amido Balde and Derk Boerrigter may be the men to answer Celtic's prayers in regards to filling the void left behind by Hooper, but I still believe they need a striker and a central defender who can protect the defence and let the likes of Joe Ledley and Scott Brown drive forward to support the wide men and strikers.

Time will tell if Lennon is given any more money to buy a couple more players to add to the four he already signed this summer. But if Celtic are to seriously challenge in Europe this term and get beyond the last 16 of the Champions League, the purse strings need to be loosened for this transfer window alone, to bring real quality in.

What are your thoughts on Wednesday night's match?


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