|Plenty to ponder for Neil Lennon after tonight’s game|
When the final whistle blew in the outer reaches of Barcelona tonight, Messi et al could be forgiven for looking surprised.
Not because they had eked out a late victory over Celtic, they’ve won enough games at the death for that to be a non-issue. But if they were expecting a clamour for their jerseys from Neil Lennon’s charges they were sorely mistaken.
It’s not as if there won’t be another opportunity for the sides to swap shirts, they meet again in a fortnight’s time when Celtic entertain the Catalans at Celtic Park. But you get the feeling that the Scottish champions have decided they aren’t in awe of their illustrious opponents anymore.
You hear it all the time. Visiting teams taking tours of the Camp Nou, starstruck players striking deals with the marquee players to secure their jerseys when the formalities of football are finished.
Not so Celtic, as this current crop of players are built in the mould of their manager. Neil Lennon never feared Barcelona as a player, and in the build-up to this game he was instilling that mindframe in his players.
Lennon looks upon these consecutive games as an opportunity for points on the board, or at least points proven.
For almost 94 minutes tonight it looked like both ambitions would be realised. Unfortunately, “almost” is the key word. Jordi Alba crept in at the back post to send Celtic home empty handed. The left-back cost Barcelona €15m during the summer. Neil Lennon’s squad is likely to have cost less.
But what value can you place on heart? In truth, nothing, unless you add tactical nous and a bit of luck. Celtic’s ploy of playing the full-backs close to the two centre halves prevented Barcelona’s attackers from darting inside on one of those all-too-familiar and utterly devastating runs.
Granted, luck played a part in keeping Celtic in the game until the final foray forward by Tito Vilanova’s side. Minutes earlier, sub David Villa had struck the base of Fraser Forster’s post. The big keeper too had a major part in keeping his side in the game, saving twice from Messi in the second half.
A momentary lapse by James Forrest in the last 15 seconds was all that cost Celtic an historic point. To blame the youngster for the defeat would be unfair however. Countless experienced defenders can empathise with the winger this evening.
A glum journey home to Glasgow then, but Lennon and his side can take heart in their overall defensive performance. Along with the victory against Spartak Moscow a few weeks back, this game may go some way towards convincing the footballing world to sit up and take note of Celtic. A 2-1 defeat to Barcelona on their own turf is nothing to be ashamed of. Xavi and his feted teammates will find an atmosphere like no other when they arrive on the outskirts of Glasgow in two weeks time. Celtic Park will be rocking. No bookie will be brave enough have Celtic at 45-1 to win this time around.