Celtic 2 Dunfermline Athletic 0Author: Alistair Campbell Date: Wednesday, 22nd Feb 2012
One feared for the Pars beforehand – top v bottom; free-scoring v worst defence; spoilt for choice v injury hit - pick your statistic. Any thoughts of a coupon buster would be tempered by the realistic expectation of a drubbing. As it happened it was two: a long-range thunderbolt from Mulgrew and a back-post tap-in from Forrest. Had it not been for Smith, it could, and should, have been a lot worse. Strangely, with Hibs failing to win despite leading at Half-time, the Pars may actually take some heart from the night.
I was looking forward to this with as much enthusiasm as a trip to the dentist. There seemed almost no possible upside, and the thought that failing to turn up and conceding a 3-0 loss might be a smart idea entered my head, although there is no such rule in the SPL. Besides, the last time I had been to a pre-Fergus Celtic Park Moyes and O’Boyle had scored in a 2-1 win. So I endured another trip to Glasgow and another tussle with the M8, with rush-hour to contend with as well, although with the East End being the destination, no knock-on problems from the Kingston Bridge were felt, and the M73/M74/London Road switch was successfully negotiated. About 80 fans were left isolated in a tiny corner of the massive stadium, and the premium paid for an unrestricted view was probably valueless as there were plenty of spare seats to choose from although the stewards were overly insistent on the correct seat being used. It looked like it was going to be a long night.
News from the team-sheets wasn’t encouraging. More injuries rather than fewer seemed to be the net result of the last few days, although Macca may have rested some doubts for more winnable matches to come. Jordan McMillan was out at right back, as was Andy Kirk up front, and Gary Mason and Martin Hardie dropped to the bench. In came Dowie at right back, Burns and Thomson in midfield and Buchanan in attack. Graham, Cardle, Rutkiewicz, Keddie, Boyle and Hutton retained their places along with Smith as the Pars lined up with a 4-5-1.
Celtic had made a handful of changes since the sides last met, but still numbered 7 full internationalists amongst their starting eleven, as well as the prolific Gary Hooper.
The Pars won the toss and opted to defend the goal in front of the Jock Stein stand. Celtic thus kicked off in a 4-4-2 formation, although a very fluid one as befits a team full to the brim with confidence, with Commons, Stokes and Hooper all quick to seek to drag their markers out of position. The Pars may have toyed with Craig Levein’s revolutionary 4-6-0 formation since Buchanan was not going to see much of the ball.
As expected, the home team dominated early exchanges, with the Koreans Ki, in the playmaker role, and Cha, at right back, particularly prominent. Twice Cha accelerated past Boyle and twice the Pars were forced to defend, as was Smith when the first shot came in after 8 minutes.
However, the Pars defence was diligent and Smith didn’t touch the ball again until the 14th minute, clutching a looping deflection before falling on it in relief. His long ball forward was allowed to bounce by Izaguirre but with Buchanan pressing Mr O’Reilly blew for a soft free-kick.
The Pars continued to work hard, closing down their man, before an increase in volume from the home fans betrayed the fact that Ki had a little bit of space and in 17 minutes he got his shot away, Smith only half-stopping before Keddie booted behind.
Meanwhile, the Pars won their first corner when Cardle broke and found Buchanan, but he showed too much of the ball to Wilson. Cardle’s corner was headed clear and as the big men trooped back Celtic broke, Hooper got clear of Rutkiewicz and only a finger-tip save from Smith denied him.
You felt the Pars were anxiously ticking off the milestones from the book of how to frustrate the Old Firm– five minutes survived, then ten, then fifteen, then quarter-distance, then the half-hour. If we could get to half time, and then regroup...dangerous thinking –with 10 minutes to the break, Mulgrew came forward with the ball from his centre-back position into the acres of space allowed him, and with Buchanan suddenly being alive to the situation he crashed in a shot from 35 yards past a startled Smith and into the roof of the net. 1-0 Celtic.
The Pars would now have to score, but every time they pushed forward they were subject to Celtic breaks of frightening pace and power; yet sitting back, and using the transparent tactic of launching long balls in the direction of Thomson could be easily read and possession was frequently conceded in this manner. The Pars’ ability from last year to play quick (or even slow) passes amongst themselves seemed a distant memory.
A towering Keddie header did set the Pars away, but Celtic soon swept back and Smith had to save at his near-post from Commons. With Dowie reluctant to get too far forward, it was left to Boyle and Cardle on the other side to offer the Pars only real threat and they combined to win a second corner 5 minutes from the interval. Cardle’s delivery to the back-post was met by Keddie but he headed straight into the arms of Forster.
Half time: Celts 1 Pars 0
Austin McCann made a surprise appearance at the start of the second half, taking the place (and armband) from Rutkiewicz, although he played left-centre back with Keddie moving right. Otherwise, it was still the same story, with one-way traffic heading towards the Dunfermline goal. Brown’s back-heel played Commons in but Smith held his near-post cross, before Stokes missed an absolute sitter- Ledley had loads of space on the left and as everyone moved in one to cover, the ball found its way to the unmarked Irishman who calmly drilled wide from 6 yards.
As if Smith didn’t have enough to do, he had the seemingly obligatory poor pass-back to deal with as well, when Dowie was short in 52 minutes, but after a moment’s hesitation, he cleared into the stand. Otherwise his kicking was decent, particularly on his right foot where he was getting through the ball much better. However, his gloves were seeing more of the action – saving from Stokes as Cha again beat his man to cut back to the “D”, then repelling Hooper twice in two minutes.