As predicted, a decent performance last Wednesday sees Celtic take a 2-0 lead to Iceland, and without insulting their opponents it should have been a whole lot more. It was an evening of domination, but also of frustration as the game began with plenty of chances for the home side.
The new signings really stood up to be counted early on and Nadir Ciftci was unlucky not to be first on the scoresheet after just 10 minutes. Icelandic champions Stjarnan done well to keep Celtic at bay for as long as they did – their formation was designed to do just that – but it wasn't enough, with Celtic’s new boy Dedryck Boyata netting on his competitive debut just before half-time.
The relief of a goal was obvious. Although Celtic clearly were the better side, their missed chances brought back memories of last year’s qualifying defeats. I'm sure many fans will agree the game really was ours to lose and the side missing so many sitters was worrying.
Then in the 56th minute the second goal Celtic had been yearning for arrived, Stefan Johansen with a simple finish from a defence-splitting pass by Stuart Armstrong. Celtic were in the driving seat and, to be honest, the game should have been killed off as soon as they were awarded a penalty after Johansen was upended in the box.
The Norwegian seemed set on taking the penalty himself and, after a few words, he walked away from the spot to allow Leigh Griffiths to step forward. Annoyingly, he missed and the game finished 2-0. Manager Ronny Deila spoke after the game explaining the Griffiths-Johansen penalty spat was "unprofessional" but clarified that Griffiths was the nominated taker.
To be fair, the missed penalty shouldn't affect Celtic in their advances, or at least I should hope not. The second leg of the tie takes place this Wednesday and even though the Icelandic champions had a few moments in front of the goal, the likelihood of them putting three past Celtic is slim.
The draw for the third qualifying round took place on Friday and should Celtic progress this week they look set to take on Baku-based Qarabag or Rudar Pljevlja of Montenegro. Last week the sides drew 0-0 in Azerbaijan, but it's likely that Celtic will be set to play Qarabag given their previous European experience. Indeed, the Azerbaijani side are the bookmakers’ favourites on Wednesday night.
Of course, it's all ifs and buts right now, but having seen Celtic’s friendly performance on Saturday away to Basque side SD Eibar – which marked the club’s 75th birthday – I think fans should be confident enough. Granted, it was only a friendly, but Ronny still started many first team regulars and ended up with a 4-1 win against yet another La Liga side.
Griffiths made up for his midweek miss with a hat-trick, which included a penalty, and we were even treated to a goal from cult hero Efe Ambrose in what was Celtic’s only away game this summer.
Deila felt it was more important to have the team focused on Champions League qualification, rather than glamour ties around the world, although a fixture against SD Eibar was too good to turn down and it’ll keep the Bhoys’ fitness ticking over ahead of the league campaign.
It was a good work-out for the team and sets the side up well for Wednesday night’s return leg in Iceland. And it also seemed an enjoyable trip for the fans who travelled, as images appeared across social media of them being welcomed with open arms to the small town of just 27,000 people.
It's been all quite positive for Ronny and the Bhoys of late, and progress to the next qualifying stage seems highly likely from where I'm standing. So many missed chances last week will cause Ronny some concern, but they’re taking a 2-0 lead to Iceland and I would expect to see a few more hit the back of the net out there.
Make us proud Bhoys.