YESTERDAY’S hugely disappointing performance and result rubbed unrefined salt into the still-open wound of last Tuesday’s defeat in Barcelona. Yet, sore though the Kilmarnock reversal was, for me, it pales into insignificance by comparison with the last-gasp Camp Nou horror show.
Though at times it was agony to behold, I was as proud as any man of Celtic’s battling and unashamedly defiant display against a truly world-class side; and I was gutted that Neil Lennon’s vibrant young charges were so cruelly denied a precious Champions’ League point.
Paradoxically, though Barcelona were worthy winners, Celtic deserved something for choreographed defence and valiant effort. Call it parking the bus, if you like – but I think it was more orchestrated, planned and focused than that. Whatever … no-one can really quibble over the actual outcome, only the pitiless manner of its ultimate infliction.
Let me be very clear – it is not the purpose of this post to allocate blame … nor is any inferred. Every man in the Hoops was a hero on the night and none more so than Fraser Forster, who was our undoubted man-of-the-match and simply immense in the face of overwhelming force and the fearsome threat of some of the most gifted players on the planet.
Nonetheless, I find myself still endlessly analysing that ill-fated final Barca play, so deceptive in its uncharacteristic simplicity, which consigned Celtic’s previous ninety-three-and-a-bit minutes of heroic hard graft to a footnote in history – an admittedly pointless attempt to understand exactly what went wrong in that calamitous instant (apologies for the painful pun).
You could be magnanimous and say the cross was simply un-defendable, being so perfectly measured and weighted. But I don’t buy that – sadly, Celtic just switched off a fraction too soon and collectively missed three manifest opportunities to avert the heartache of snatching defeat from the jaws of a glorious draw in the most daunting of theatres.
Arguably, the central defence could and maybe should have dealt decisively with the cross in flight. Certainly, James Forrest, who seems to be manfully holding his hand up, might have tracked Jordi Alba’s run better and blocked the lunge that forced the ball in … but in my book, neither of these shortcomings was the fatal lapse.
Now, I don’t pretend to be expert in modern defensive theory and I have no idea what Neil’s instructions were on the night in respect of combating such a scenario; but coming from a football generation for whom, just like the offside rule, individual responsibilities were simpler and more clear-cut, there is no doubt in my mind about the decisive factor … “in my day”, as they say, that was a goalie’s ball every day of the week.
Just my humble opinion, you understand …