Coming off the back of two disappointing results I expected Celtic, at home, to get back on the winning trail against League One Alloa. Nothing other than a win would do; and a comfortable one at that.
Boy was I wrong! Celtic were lacklustre, wasteful and ultimately lucky to progress to the semi-final stage. However, I was happy to see Rodgers line up with a strong side from the start, showing a respect for the competition as well as the opposition, but ultimately sending the message that domestically Celtic want to win it all.
Simunovic starting at the back alongside Toure was a welcome sight after the Croat’s difficult time with the club up to this point. For him it will be about getting game time whilst forcing himself into Brendan Rodgers’ plans for the season. Craig Gordon lined up behind the defence for the first time since the disastrous Champions League qualifier in Israel. For me, his performances over the past few seasons have consistently declined. He lacks confidence which thereby resonates throughout his defence, and his decision making is questionable to say the least. Last night’s game summed it up for me. Nothing to do for 89 minutes, yet he still manages to get involved in a needless incident. Flying in with such a ridiculous challenge which should have seen him seeing red, could have been a complete game changer. However, all of this said, his ‘replacement’ Dorus de Vries who Rodgers brought in during the summer, to me, looks just as suspect from his early appearances.
In an attacking sense, Celtic were off their game for most of the night. They have been scoring goals for fun at Celtic Park so far this season but last night their play was slow and laborious. The level of play ultimately allowed Alloa to defend deep and drop back into position when Celtic built attacks. It was resonant of games under Deila last season.
Paddy Roberts hasn’t looked the same player either since his injury suffered against Lincoln Red Imps. He is lacking confidence and that killer instinct which he has shown regularly during his time with Celtic. His starting role is thereby seriously under threat from the on fire Scott Sinclair as well as the rejuvenated James Forrest. Talking of Forrest, he played reasonably well and has a good understanding with both Tierney and Lustig, whom he linked up well with whilst playing on either flank. The major disappointment for me, however, was Celtic’s finishing from 18-20 yards. With big games on the horizon they won’t be allowed as many opportunities and therefore can’t afford to be as wasteful. Rogic, Armstrong and Dembele were the biggest offenders, although their positivity and want to score can’t be criticised.
Two moments of magic inevitably won Celtic the game late on. Forrest’s mazy run and clinical finish allowed Celtic Park to let out a massive sigh of relief; and right at the end Dembele put a bit of gloss on the score line with a magical turn and finish into the top corner of the net. A far from convincing performance, but as Rodgers highlighted post-match, progression to the semi-final was the number one goal heading into the tie and they ultimately achieved that. However, with Manchester City visiting Glasgow in 6 days’ time, Celtic will quickly need to go through the gears if they are to compete with the English league leaders.