IT WILL BE a complete travesty if Celtic fail to overturn a totally self-inflicted Champions’ League qualification deficit and send Shakhter Karagandy hurtling back to the reality of their lowly world ranking.
Setting aside the transparent fact that, as an Asian club, they should never have been anywhere near a UEFA competition in the first place, the thought of them ejecting one of last season’s CL last sixteen just beggars belief. Celtic should have won last week’s first leg by at least as many as they lost it, through an embarrassing combination of shocking defending and hapless finishing. We all know that.
Yet, we are where we are – and it’s up to Neil Lennon and his thus-far worryingly dysfunctional squad to extricate all of us from potential humiliation, by burying that first-leg nightmare under the deluge of Celtic Park goals that would restore the natural order of things. Easier said than done, though.
On the face of it and at the risk of allegations of complacency, I see no reason why Celtic should not take five or six off Shakhter on our own midden. Any combination Lenny chooses from the likes of Stokes, Watt, Boerrigter, Commons, Forrest and Samaras (not to mention our so-far misfiring summer strike acquisition, Amido Balde) should have that in them, if … and it’s a BIG if … the defence can stand firm against the aerial bombardment and guerrilla raiding tactics their erstwhile tormentors will certainly see as their best chance of pulling off the unlikeliest of two-leg results.
Personally (and subject to availability), I would pair Charlie Mulgrew with Virgil at the heart of defence and unleash Stokes, Watt and Boerrigter up front as a potent three-pronged strike-force, to be fed by the midfield promptings of Brown, Ledley and Commons, allied to wide raiding and delivery. How to create that width and delivery is down to the manager. To that end, he has at his disposal the likes of Lustig, Matthews, Izaguirre, Forrest and Samaras – how he deploys those assets could be key to whether we march with heads high into the CL Group Stages, or go scurrying shamefaced into the UEFA League.
At best, bench-warming duty alongside Zaluska calls for Ambrose, Rogic, Kayal and Mouyokolo, any of whom may be required if a midfield or (God forbid!) defensive re-vamp is required.
I am cautiously confident …
Let it be, Celtic!