(12/09/1998, SPL, Parkhead)
FERGUS McCANN is operating with a squad of minders these days. Just like the American president, the Celtic chairman is covering his back to ensure that nobody gets near enough to make their point.
Perhaps though, he should employ Hugh Dallas when he comes to address the shareholders at tomorrow’s agm. The referee was the only man less popular than McCann in the eyes of the Celtic Park crowd.
For 90 minutes at least, Dallas took the heat off McCann. However, normal service was resumed when the final blast of his whistle that the 1-1 draw had stripped 10-man Celtic of yet more vital Premier League points.
The dismissal of Paul Lambert in the 77th minute was the chief reason for the Celtic fans’ anger with the FIFA referee, but a series of other incidents meant Dallas was the target of more snipers from the huge, green stands than JFK was at the grassy knoll.
McCann is equally under fire and he may need a human shield to deflect those fans who are deeply unhappy that their team was not strengthened over the summer and who are now limping along badly in pursuit of another championship.
The principal object of the crowd’s criticism is the inadequate attack and that fact was cruelly underlined by Kilmarnock who ignored the loss of an excellent first-half goal by Regi Blinker to take away a point, courtesy of Jerome Vareille’s stylish 50th-minute equaliser.
McCann said on BBC radio before the game that funds are in place for head coach, Jozef Venglos, to make purchases, thus turning the spotlight on the genial Slovak.
Or does it? Celtic have apparently tried and failed to secure four strikers around Europe within the last fortnight. The lack of interest, it seems, is not solely down to money. Agents and players around the continent have hinted that they do not want to do business with Celtic after a series of stand-offs with players in recent seasons.
Venglos sighed later: “We are trying to do something about new players all the time, and you never know.”
However, the Celtic coach did not seem to believe his own words. Certainly Celtic’s football stock will plunge even lower than it currently is if they deliver a similar display to this one in Portugal on Tuesday in the UEFA Cup-tie against Vitoria Guimaraes. However, that seems very possible given that they cannot score, nor even defend with the same degree of resilience as last season.
Celtic looked in the early stages as if they would sweep away the problems which have gathered with a run of just one victory in the five games which preceded this.
Henrik Larsson profited from a fine one-two with Simon Donnelly in the 11th minute and rounded Gordon Marshall but the Swede was forced too wide to shoot.
Just 60 seconds later, the former Celtic goalkeeper produced a wonderful save to turn a powerful 25-yard drive from Craig Burley around the post. Not that Celtic were having things entirely their own way. Ian Durrant twice forced Jonathan Gould to pull out his best form – once, in touching a clever cross over then with a low shot from the edge of the box when the Celtic goalkeeper could not hold the former Rangers midfielder’s shot.
However, Celtic made the breakthrough they craved in the 29th minute and, to the astonishment of everyone in the 58,361 crowd at Parkhead, the man who put the ball in the net was Blinker.
The dilettante Dutchman has justifiably been criticised recently for his lack of heart but you could not fault his technique in the way he crashed a left-foot volley past Marshall from 18 yards after Stephane Mahe’s free-kick had been headed clear by Gary Holt, who atoned by proceeding to snuff out the threat of the clever Larsson. The ginger-haired Kilmarnock midfielder shadowed the Swede everywhere and Celtic’s chief source of creativity was shut down.
Kilmarnock got back into the game when Vareille equalised five minutes into the second half. Alan Mahood released the Frenchman with a fine pass and once again Marc Rieper seemed negligent as the Rugby Park striker got away from him and beat Gould with a firm shot which the keeper could only push on to the underside of the bar.
In the 62nd minute Lambert was booked for halting Durrant’s run at the edge of the box and 15 minutes later the Scotland midfielder picked up a far more costly second caution.
Lambert was jostling with substitute Paul Wright for a loose ball when he took the legs from his opponent. It did seem a harsh booking in itself, but the effect is that Lambert is now out of the Rangers match next Sunday
Celtic: Gould, Boyd , Mahe, Rieper, Stubbs , Larsson, Burley , Brattbakk (Jackson, 55), Donnelly, Lambert, Blinker (McKinlay, 78)
Subs not used: Hannah, McCondichie, McBride
Scorer: Blinker (29)
Kilmarnock: Marshall, MacPherson (Bagan, 45 ), Kerr, Montgomerie, McGowne, Holt, Durrant (Wright, 65), Mitchell, Mahood, Vareille (McCoist, 65), Baker
Subs not used Meldrum, Burke
Scorer: Vareille (50)
Bookings: Mahe, Lambert (Celtic) McGowne (Kilmarnock)
Sent Off: Lambert,76 (Celtic)
Referee: Hugh Dallas (Scotland)
Dr Jo Venglos post match
“It is up to the referee to say whether players should be sent off or not but in my opinion it was not a foul.
“Disappointment is part of the game and we have top take it. If you analyse the way we played you can clearly see the situation.
“For an hour we performed normally, with good passing and good possession. We scored a nice goal through Regi and then suddenly, after not too many counter-attacks they scored and we did not perform so well.
On subbing Brattbakk for Jackson:
“I tried to change things by pushing players up front and taking risks but we could not get that goal. The supporters have a right to be unhappy when I change things. But if you remember we made the same change against Dunfermiline and ended up winning 5-0.
“”It is the type of situation where the coach simply has to try something. We needed a fresh face to go for some penetration. Actually, today’s game was made for Mark Burchill and it was unfortunate that he was not available. He is a youngster who can work well in that situation.”