A Z Alkmaar 2—1 Celtic.

Celtic got off to the kind of start we can only dream about. Tony Ralston with a perfect pass in behind the Alkmaar defence. Liel Abada rips it up and puts in the slide-rule pass. Kyogo Furuhashi makes it 1—0 on the night and 3—0 on aggregate and there was only three minutes gone. I was still nervous.  Celtic had started well, knocking the ball about and getting into good positions, but Alkmaar often went long. They knocked our centre-halves about and started winning all the second balls in midfield. The Dutch team hasn’t scored this season. Celtic gifted them two goals, and it could have been three, but for a save from Joe Hart just before half-time.

The Celtic keeper has been lauded of late. Here he lost us the first goal. Route one football. AZ keeper Vindahl launched it. The ball came off Welsh. The youngster was poor here. But the former England international waited for the ball on the edge of his penalty area. Zakaria Aboukhla nipped in and tackled him when he tried to swipe it away. He was left with an open goal and put the ball into the net. Celtic were rocking and on their heels.  

Sugawara, the Japanese international right back, who already had a volley past the post, knocked the ball into the box. Nobody in a red shirt was near to stick it away. Starfelt swung at it with his right foot, it came off his left and he knocked it past Hart. Our keeper had no chance. That just about sum up the Swede. He is both Laurel and Hardy. Another fine mess.

Taylor went off injured. Adam Montgomery comes on with most of the game in front of him. I do like the look of the youngster.  I prefer him to Taylor, but the ex-Kilmarnock man has been decent lately.

For the first ten minutes of the second-half it was all Alkmaar. Celtic invited pressure by trying to play it out from the back and losing the ball, immediately, in and around the penalty box. Tom Rogic has been great. Here he was a passenger. I want Edouard away, but he came on and did a job, providing a focal point and holding the ball up. Furuhashi went wide right and came in for some rough treatment. Ironically, when commentators start to talk about ‘weathering storms’, Joe Hart almost sells another. He flew off his line to try and punch a ball at the edge of the box. To be fair, neither Starfelt of Welsh won many of their aerial duals. We were a soft centre. But Hart missed his punch and Martins Indi nods wide from the resultant corner.

Not yet sixty minutes gone. The chance of the match, surely an equaliser. Alkmaar score and there’s only going to be one winner and it won’t be the Glasgow club. But, I clung to the hope this isn’t a team that scores many goals. Substitute Boukema, a centre- half playing centre-forward, brought on to win even more high balls, instead sets up Poku at the back post. He slides into the six-yard box. Montgomery trailing beside him. He puts it over the bar.

Too early to say this was going to be our night, but…with four minutes added on, the AZ keeper is up for a succession of corners. He bundled Joe Hart into the goals. Celtic hold on and go through. It was nervy. It’s not often you can say going with a two goal lead and scoring early and you know it isn’t going to be enough.

 I’m giving man of the match to Ralston again. His pass helped set up our all-important first goal. He was the only Celtic defender that won all of his headers. He was unlucky at the other end, winning a header from a corner that drifted over the bar. Honourable mentions, Adam Montgomery. Yeh, he’s a player. We can certainly score at Ibrox, any number of goals, but our soft centre and inability to defend, means anything can happen. Phewww…we’ll win 3—1 at Ibrox?