I now realise, that I was perhaps less than fair to two fine teams, whose contribution to Scottish Football is sadly missed in these days of Wattenaccio, but at the time I was not prepared to accept criticism from Huns who lacked the bus fare.
At the time I thought that this would be a fairly regular occurrence, but in fact I don’t think the first team has ever been back. Those of us who follow the white and green in the south west have been limited to seeing the youth team in cup ties and occasionally friendly encounters in the years since.
On Saturday, since Queens were removed from the National Cup competition at an early stage this season, a friendly game was announced with the Celtic Development side – i.e. Neil Lennon’s erstwhile reserve team.
I don’t know what they expected but it was announced that the crowd would be segregated! This laughably involved families and friends, some of whom supported the local side parting from their Celtic minded brethren outside the ground. On the way in I was cheerily chided by at least two folk from our parish for wearing the green and white.
In the event there were over 200 hundred Tims in attendance all of whom enjoyed a very pleasant day in the sunshine.
The Celtic team was – Cervi; McGinn; Kurakins; Vallers; Tolmie; Lafferty; Forrest, Towwell; Keatings; McGowan; Slane. Subs: Grant; Fairley; Spence and – to the bemusement of the announcer – Charlie Gallagher!
Right from the start Celtic were in the ascendancy and despite the fact that it was more or less a full Q.o.S. team the young hoops had them on the back foot with a goal after about 3 minutes. They followed this with a penalty soon after and scored a third just before the break. Queens had a period after the second goal when they played some nice football and forced a couple of good saves low down from Dominic Cervi, but generally Celtic were in command.
The second half was pretty much a repeat of the first with Celtic scoring a fourth and looking like scoring every time they went up the park. It was a surprise when Queens got a consolation goal in the last minute which enabled their website to claim that the second half was a draw! To be fair they had made wholesale changes at half time with Scott Fox the former Celtic goalie playing very well to keep the score down. Other former Celts in the Queen’s side were Rocco Quinn, Anthony McParland and Stevie Keane.
For the Hoops there were several impressive performances. Dominic Cervi was terrific in goal. He is huge, must be about 6’6 and was excellent with the cross ball, but more importantly he made a couple of outstanding saves at the forwards’ feet – one getting down very quickly to the shot and another couple of blocks where he was off his line to save. He looked the real deal and it would not concern me greatly if Artur was to be replaced by Lukas with Cervi as back up – given the Holy Goalie’s current form and body shape.
Others who caught the eye included Paul McGowan who was quite brilliant throughout. Once or twice in the first half he was a bit greedy in possession, but he worked his socks off and showed terrific strength and good balance when riding really heavy tackles complemented by no little skill.
Niall McGinn captained the side from right back and played very well. I can only assume that this is seen as part of his education as a footballer in the manner of Ajax where players play all over the field to develop their game awareness.
The two players who impressed me most were the number 4 who was called Vallers and the 8 who was called Towwell. These two more or less bossed the mid-field area and if they gave the ball away at all it was very seldom. Their passing was crisp and controlled and their ability to keep possession was a delight to behold. Towwell was a giant – he was not much smaller than Cervi – and looked very much like Morten Wieghorst in the style of his play.
On last week’s podcast after the Kilmarnock debacle Eddie bemoaned the inability of the midfield to get the ball back when possession was lost. Yesterday’s performance from Neil Lennon’s bhoys was a master-class in hustling and ball retrieval reminiscent of the Lurgan Celt at his best. From start to finish they were in Queen’s faces from front to back and their ability to win the ball back on the occasions that possession was lost was the key to their win.
I am well aware that this is not the first team, but the manner in which they carried out the basics made me wonder about the coaching at Celtic Park. The first team has some of the best players in the country and yet they have on more than one occasion this season been bullied out of games that they should have won comfortably.
Lennon’s boys were up against some very seasoned pro’s – a team who still have a chance of promotion – and yet they matched up to the physical challenge throughout. In Queen’s short spell of dominance they started to throw high balls into a big centre forward for the second striker to feed off. This tactic worked for a spell during which Dominic Cervi was called on to show his class, but it was short lived, and it was only looking at it later, I realised that it was because Celtic worked even harder to close down the wingers and mid-fielders who were launching this aerial assault, thus quelling it at source.
Another bright spot for Celtic was an appearance from Charlie Grant who, while he did not exert himself too much since the game was well won, never gave the ball away once during his time on the park.
At the end Neil Lennon sent the team over to our small gathering to give us a wave – a gesture which was much appreciated by all in green and white.
Watching the reserves – as they were – can be fraught with unfulfilled expectation. Charlie Grant is just one example. We were led to believe that he and Simon Ferry would actually bye-pass this stage and go from youths to the first team only for injury to wreck such promise in both cases. Anthony McParland and Rocco Quinn were two players for whom we had great hopes and they are now playing for Queens.
Allowing for this I would suggest that Cervi has a real chance and if Vallers and Towwell can progress they look to have the right stuff and Paul McGowan and Niall McGinn need only to be patient and wait for their chance to come.
To close, I trust it will not be another 25 years before we again see the Hoops in the sunny south west.