by Darren Walsh
After last night’s formalities, we have a real proper point to some of tonight’s games. Three places are up for grabs in the last sixteen, with Chelsea trying to stay in the competition that they won last year, while Celtic have probably surpassed their own expectations and have a real chance to reach the knockout stages.
To do that, they’ll have to better Benfica’s result against a second string Barcelona team. Neil Lennon might need a direct line to Tito Vilanova to get Messi on later if things aren’t going well.
Nothing like a Champion’s League night atmosphere at Celtic Park, maybe Anfield compares to it, but we obviously won’t be hearing that for a while again.
George Hamilton says that it’s “a chilly night in Glasgow”. I wouldn’t complain too much; it could have been the away tie in Moscow.
Whenever I see Celtic in a high pressure game, the players seem to lose their heads and forget the basics of playing. I hope that’s not the case tonight, but Kris Commons hasn’t eased my mind by clattering into a Spartak player when he had no need to.
Oh, Kim Kallstrom plays for Spartak now; one of the best strikers of a ball I’ve ever seen.
As if to prove my point, he almost finds the bottom corner with a curler. I remember him more for some powerful ones though.
Action near the corner flag as the ball is battled for. We see the action through the touchline camera and the ball is deflected out towards it. The operator must have got a fair whack from it, as the camera shakes violently.
Despite Spartak dominating possession, Celtic have taken the lead after a mistake by Insaurralde. The ball runs through to Gary Hooper and he shoots hard into the corner. Further evidence that England should be giving this guy a look.
Hamilton goes too far by comparing the competition to a voyage, or a boat, or something. “Celtic are on their way to boarding the good ship Champion’s League knockout!!” That’s a TERRIBLE name for a ship.
Eminike is proving to be quite a powerhouse; it seems like he has lost the ball, but somehow muscles Ambrose away from it, then Kayal bounces off him, before he finds Ari all on his own who chips over Forster for the equaliser.
Every corner by Mulgrew has gone straight to the keeper.
Halftime, and with Benfica drawing against Barcelona everything is as it was at the start of the night.
Eamon Dunphy says that he “thinks” Scott Brown is injured. It’s been in the sports news for weeks that he’s playing through a hip problem that probably needs surgery.
A Spartak defender spoons a clearance up into the air that Pesyakov claims. The crowd shout for a backpass. Optimistic.
Samaras hit the post after getting onto the end of a low cross. Offside is somehow given, even though he was about a yard the other side of the defender.
Lustig ploughs through Kallstrom and injures him badly. Our commentating team of Hamilton and Trevor Steven blame the Swede for overrunning the ball. Yeah, it’s perfectly fine to tackle someone high and late if they’ve miscontrolled, they were asking for it weren’t they?
The home crowd let out a roar while play is stopped, which surely had to be for a Barcelona goal against Benfica. Well I can see that there has been no goal; someone had wrong information. It might be a Rangers fan having a bit of fun.
Former Celtic favourite Aidan McGeady is on; gets a decent reception too that stands out in an age when not many players who play against former clubs do. That relationship might get a bit strained if he does something decisive here though.
Chelsea are winning 5-1, which won’t matter a bit if Juventus hold onto their 0-1 lead. Meanwhile, Messi is on for Barcelona; Celtic need him to deliver because I’m not sure they’re going to score a winner here.
Incredible save from Pesyakov as Mulgrew heads downwards from a corner that is going to find the far side of the goal, but the Spartak number one is somehow able to touch it over the bar.
Clever play by Samaras who goads the defender into a challenge in the area, and wins the penalty. Kris Commons assumes responsibility, while Neil Lennon can’t watch and turns around to bury his head in the dugout. The left footer almost does a Paul Bodin, but it hits the underside of the bar and finds the net. They’re not relying on Barcelona to qualify any longer.
Fraser Forster miskicks a backpass. That won’t help the collective blood pressure of the fans.
Kallstrom loses his head and assaults Commons; tackled him almost hip high. While the Swede is sent off, Commons can’t continue and Celtic have no subs left, so both teams are down to ten men.
After a long five minutes of injury time, Celtic have done it. The team that drew with Arbroath on Saturday are through to the last sixteen of the Champion’s League. They won’t have to worry about the weight of expectation like they did tonight, whoever they play in that stage, but that will suit them just fine.