Celtic face challenges both near and VAR


IT WAS a case of so near yet so VAR for referee Nick Walsh and his associate in front of the screen, Steven McLean, when Celtic’s first domestic encounter with video technology took place at Tynecastle. Some mystifying decisions certainly added to the anxieties Celtic supporters have about the use of the technology, but even a strangely disallowed goal and a penalty not awarded after review were not enough to stop Postecoglou’s men.

Their 4-3 victory away in Edinburgh against the odds showed steel and resolve, and recent matches have witnessed a more comfortable rotation of the squad, with players such as James Forrest showing that Celtic have the depth required for the challenges ahead of them.

Forrest notched his 100th goal in the Hoops last month, and his fantastic achievement drew attention back on to him and what he cans till offer to his teammates. Recognition must be given to his fantastic tally in a Celtic jersey, but while it was cause for celebration among the green and white faithful, of more interest to them may be the fact that after a difficult couple of years blighted by injury and lack of form, Forrest looks like he is back to being a dangerous proposition for opponents.

Champions League challenge
The league form, with comfortable wins in the league and a no-nonsense dispatch of Motherwell in the League Cup, are comforting facts for the Celtic support as they look ahead to the international break for the World Cup, but the Champions League has proved a more difficult hunting ground for Celtic.

Just two points, from drawn matches with Shakhtar Donetsk, is a miserly tally for any Celtic team, and with the final group match against Real Madrid taking place just as The Irish Voice goes to press, any qualification hopes have already been dashed.

The lack of European football after Christmas has done little to deter the Celtic travelling support from invading Madrid, leading to a famous ticket scramble, but something really must be offered to exit this year’s edition of the competition with heads held high.

The simple story of Celtic in the 2022/23 Champions League is one of missed opportunities and a fundamental lack of quality. It is no shame for a player to come unstuck in what is the elite level of world football, but there is also no hiding from the fact that when it came down to it this season Celtic were not good enough—either collectively or individually.

Postecoglou’s system showed what can be done. Chances were created and confidence shown against some quality opponents, but Celtic lacked the killer who could either grab the game by its scruff or take the important chance under pressure.

With more time and experience this squad certainly has talent within it who could be expected to improve if they repeat their arrival on this stage, and Postecoglou’s record in the transfer market gives hope that more gems can be found who will raise the level in his side.

However as the curtain comes down on European football for another year there will undoubtedly be frustration at the paltry return for Celtic’s efforts.

Domestic dominance
The consolation, then, must be found domestically. The run of form Celtic are on is most impressive, and already the club are making moves in the transfer market to continue strengthening.

The chance to draw breath for the World Cup will be a welcome one, and allows those players not involved to travel to Australia where the fanbase there will delight in seeing their heroes in the flesh and the manager will have ample
opportunity to refresh his squad and give time for injured players to recuperate.

Celtic must make the most of that time, because looming on the horizon is an appointment with their city rivals—themselves in the throes of the intermittent disarray which still seems to plague their organisation—during which they can take a huge step towards success this year.

Given the added layer of stress caused by VAR, a trip to Ibrox carries additional challenges this year. Will the ‘teething problems’ have been resolved by then? You wouldn’t bet on it.

Celtic have been very good so far this season, but they will have to be better again to come out of the derby unscathed. Until then, they must keep ticking off the wins, nursing those who need it back to fitness and relying on the manager to lead.

A visit to the Bernabeu is a welcome opportunity for Celtic to dine at the very top table of European football, but it is only for the bread and butter at home that this season will now be remembered.

With three irons in the fire Celtic can be full of hope and confidence that this season will once again end with silverware, even if it won’t end with memories of European adventure.