Celtic’s form has now reached a point in which their on track to proceed at full speed. Rangers, meanwhile, have tied too many games and they have not looked convincing as a league leader.
Celtic has everything going for them now after a tremendous UEFA victory over EPL’s Blackburn Rovers last week, and a little luck to start the day against Partick in this league game. Indeed, Celtic’s Neil Lennon found Chris Sutton, whose cross was turned into Partick’s goal by Partick defender Derek Whyte. Tthe own goal helped settle the bhoys down and off they went on the rampage.
Thistle found it impossible to contain Celtic’s attack in Sutton and Henrik Larsson as the duo combined effortlessly. It was only a matter of time before Celtic Park would erupt, and it was none other that bold bhoy Stilian Petrov who came up trumps for Celtic’s second strike. The Bulgarian talent was in the bad books recently after announcing he was worth more than what Celtic were offering him for a five-year contract.
But things seem to be falling into place nowadays for the Hoops when Petrov went on to score another goal against Thistle in the 68th minute. His casual chip over Partick’s keeper, Kenneth Arthur, would suggest that the Bulgarian, despite his contract controversy, is playing out of his skin. Call it fortunate that Petrov rocks the boat one week and the next the Hoops are sailing. Then again, you could call it excellent management by Martin O’Neill.
The Celtic boss from Northern Ireland showed just how much Petrov means to him and the club as the coach hugged his player leaving the field in the 79th minute to a standing ovation. It was all about Petrov: not only did he bring the Celtic fans to their feet, but he gave them a good laugh just before his exit. The Bulgarian thought he was being substituted as he made an embarrassing walk toward the dressing rooms only to learn Partick Thistle were making changes, not Celtic.
Petrov’s realization that there are bigger players at the club came in the form of Henrik Larsson 10 minutes later. The super Swede scored in the 90th minute, making it 22 goals so far this season. It’s no wonder O’Neill is trying to convince Larsson to stay at Celtic.
The bigger picture for Petrov to further understand his place at Parkhead was Celtic’s victorious performance at Ewood Park against Blackburn Rovers in the second round of the UEFA Cup. Even though Larsson scored the lone goal in the first leg against Rovers and then provided a world-class finish to open the score in the return leg, it was the team performance that stole the show.
The so-called Battle of Britain turned out to be a tactical massacre for Graeme Souness and his Rovers. The manner in which Celtic defended spelled out that O’Neill had totally outfoxed Souness on his own turf. Much talk of how Rovers were going to dance on Celtic proved to be nothing but gibberish.
Celtic sat in as Blackburn searched for an early opener. When Celtic did break forward, it was clinical stuff by the Hoops, with Chris Sutton, at midfield, orchestrating much of the play. John Hartson got the call up top with Larsson and the Welsh international sprung a sweet effort that reminded Rovers danger lurked.
In the 14th minute, Celtic strung some good passes together when Neil Lennon found some time on the ball. The passing finished with Sutton stroking the ball in behind Blackburn’s defense as players slipped to allow Larsson in on goal. The silky Swede had read everything from the play to the wet surface and in he glided for a cool finish.
Now Blackburn was in desperate need for an early response as they looked to get Damien Duff on the ball. They did succeed, but the Celtic defense was more concerned about marking the space around Duff, which became limited for him to work and turn in.
The only eyesore for the Hoops was that Lennon lacked a yard or two when attacked by the Rovers midfield. Nonetheless, Sutton was unstoppable in the middle. His decisions were flawless. His tackling was crucial while his distribution was spot on. Rather than trying to hit that long telling pass, Sutton maintained possession with very clever short touches and layoffs. What a Celt he has turned to be. At the break the bhoys came in with the dream score, a 1-nil advantage, with Rovers now needing 3 goals in 45 minutes.
Surely, Rovers would come out in the second half and make a battle of it, but O’Neill and his Hoops had other things in mind. From the get-go, Celtic set the tone. Blackburn’s Dwight Yorke was forced to come deep to look for the ball and he became easy pickings for the Celtic defense comprising Dianbobo Balde, Ulrik Laursen and Joos Valgaeren. It was no surprise when, in the 68th minute, Sutton peeled away from his marker and glanced a header home from a Petrov corner.
The former Rovers player had beyond doubt sealed a Celtic victory and O’Neill could now insert Paul Lambert for Hartson, Alan Thompson for Petrov and Mohamed Sylla for Didier Agathe. The Battle of Britain did not live up to its name, but the battle is not over for Celtic. Now they face a real war against fellow Celts Celta Vigo in the next round of the UEFA.
The Battle of the Celts on the continent may prove a tougher outing. The Galician outfit has made a name for themselves in Spanish football and they can more than hold there own in La Liga. Currently in top flight in the league, Celta have reached the quarterfinals of the UEFA Cup in three of the last four years. They are no strangers either to knocking out EPL teams, such as Liverpool and Villa. Once again O’Neill and Celtic are faced with home advantage in the first leg on Nov. 28 and once again a clean sheet would be the order of that Celtic day.