From Russia With Love: A momentous night for Celtic
03/10/2012 § 2 Comments
Remember the night- Tuesday October 2, 2012, the night that Celtic Football Club won its first ever away match in the group stages of the UEFA Champions League. Celtic, a club enriched in so much history and tradition, still reigns as one of the biggest clubs in world football despite the financial difficulties that face Scottish football these days. Yet for one so huge, the club’s European away record in recent years has been abysmal at best. An embarrassing defeat against Danish side Aalborg springs to mind, as well as the unforgettable 5-0 drubbing at the hands of Artmedia Bratislava after which ex-manager Gordon Strachan deemed his “worst night in football.” Well that bogey was diminished once and for all when Neil Lennon’s side travelled to the intimidating Luzhniki Stadium venue to take on Russian giants Spartak Moscow- and in some style.
A performance of true grit and spirit saw the Glasgow club break its duck and defeat the opponents by 3 goals to 2. Celtic had lined up against former fan favourite and ex-winger Aiden McGeady (above), now a regular in Giovanni Trappatoni’s Republic of Ireland team. He had even said prior to the game that the match would be “strange” for him. McGeady made a total of 185 appearances in the green and white hoops, scoring 31 times, including a goal on his senior debut against Hearts back in April 2004 when Martin O’Neil was still manager. A Celtic fan at heart, the winger’s cheeky taunt at Rangers back in 2008 when Celtic secured a third successive league title on the last day of the season, will undoubtedly always be remembered in Glasgow’s East End.
However on the night McGeady didn’t make the impact he would have wanted to and Celtic took advantage. In the 12th minute, English striker Gary Hooper (above) deftly flicked Mikael Lustig’s cross into the net to give the Glasgow side an unlikely lead. Hooper, who was a thorn in Spartak’s side all night long with his pace and touch, will surely be catching the eye of England manager Roy Hodgson with performances like this on the big stage. Yet four minutes before half time a sucker punch came. Kim Kallstrom floated a long diagonal in behind Kelvin Wilson of which Moscow striker Ari knocked down for Emmanual Emenike to steer home past Fraser Forster.
That took us to deadlock at half time and 3 minutes after the break Celtic’s defence switched off, with a square ball across goal leading to another Emenike tap in. This prompted scenes of disgust from the sidelines as passionate Lennon lambasted his defence for a lack of concentration. What’s more, Celtic were staring down the barrel again and that oh so familiar feeling of deja vu had returned.
However, just after the hour, lightning struck the hosts. Hooper got in behind the defence and bared down on goal. As he was about to shoot, Juan Insaurraide pulled him back and Hooper fell to the turf- a straight red card. Spartak were down to ten men and Celtic’s flame was re-ignited. A few minutes later, Charlie Mulgrew’s left sided cross found Hooper in the box. He squared off to substitute James Forrest and the winger’s shot was initially saved by Sergei Pesiakov only for the ball to ricochet off defender Dmitri Kombarov and into and into the goal. 2-2
Then, as time was petering out, Celtic’s glory moment finally arrived, not so long after another dark night in Europe looked set to be the destiny. Honduran left back Emilio Izaguirre crossed for much maligned, gangly striker Georgios Samaras (above) to loop a header home passed the diving Pesiakov. Cue pandemonium on the bench and for Celtic fans in the stands. The night was their’s and Samaras had once again paid back his manager for the remarkable backing he has received. Lennon after the game declared he was “the proudest man in Europe”.
So not only was it a big night for Celtic, but a big night for Scottish football. Former Rangers manager and Ibrox legend Walter Smith said a few years back on his team’s remarkable run to the Europa League final that it was as important as ever for the Old Firm to perform in Europe to get Scotland’s co-efficient back up with regards to performances ranked by UEFA. Nowadays the champions of Scotland no longer qualify for the group stages of the Champions League automatically. Instead they have to go through the difficult aspect of qualifiers so early on in the season. Celtic’s result in Moscow will at least go a little way to changing that again. After the fixture, Irish owner Dermot Desmond said “the best years of Lennon were still to come” as a manager. Only time will tell to see if that turns out to be the case.