Few places in Europe would have been able to match the spine tingling atmosphere which greeted the arrival of the first Champions League match at Celtic Park since 2008 on Wednesday night.
Pre match a poignant yet stirring rendition of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ was sung with gusto and abandon by the faithful Celtic support in memory of the 96 Liverpool fans who as we learned to our shock last week died as a result of serious ineptitude and callousness by the South Yorkshire Police.
This was followed by Handel’s wonderful piece of classical music ‘Zadok the Priest’, which was greeted by the home support with joy at the realisation their beloved club were back amongst the big boys of European competition.
Unfortunately though the minutes leading up to the clash with Benfica turned out to be the highlights of the night as Celtic stuttered, unable to produce a winning performance which was required if the Hoops are to have serious ambitions about progressing from the group.
Neil Lennon’s charges were not poor, there were positives to be taking from the game such as their continued solidity at the back, this was their fifth consecutive European clash in which they kept a clean sheet.
In the middle skipper Scott Brown was immense, charging around the park like a whirling dervish continually harassing Benfica playmaker Pablo Aimar but he was not all about steel as Brown also showed some excellent touches and passing.
However in attack Celtic were blunt with no cutting edge, new Venezuelan striker Miku failing to be a real threat and living up to his reputation despite Lennon’s after match assertion he had played well.
A fully fit Gary Hooper would surely have started and it was obvious that the enigma that is Georgios Samaras would have also been in the starting eleven had it not been for injury ruling him out.
Much of the onus of providing Miku with opportunities rested on the soldiers of both Kris Commons and James Forrest but both players were lacklustre, particularly young Forrest, though Commons came on to a game in the second half.
The Portuguese have reached the last sixteen of this competition in each of the last three seasons so holding them to a draw is not something to be sniffed at but with a trip to Moscow and Spartak next before the daunting prospect of two games with Barcelona to contend with it is hard to be optimistic about Celtics chances of progressing.
The Hoops European away record, up until this season, is pretty abysmal and on last nights showing at the Nou Camp Spartak will be stiff opposition so Lennon will need to ensure he gets the best out of his troops if they are to return from Russia with anything.
Before then Celtic will be back with the overalls on and the bread and butter of SPL football to deal with and its imperative they start to show the same collective attitude displayed last night into domestic matters as this has been lacking leading to dropped points against the likes of Ross County, Hibernian and St Johnstone.
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