The Lazy Man’s SPL Update 8-3-07

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Craig continues our weekly coverage of all things Scottish (well, just the football)…

Celtic’s European adventure was ended in the San Siro, despite an exceptional defensive performance. AC Milan were frustrated for 180 mins by the Celtic defence and goalkeeper Artur Boruc before Kaka scored the only goal 3 minutes into extra time. Milan attacked from the start and only a last ditch Lee Naylor tackle stopped Inzaghi from giving them the lead. A few seconds later Celtic should have had a penalty against the run of play, but a clear handball in the area by Paolo Maldini was missed by the officials.

Milan piled on the pressure and only some inspired saves from Polish keeper Artur Boruc kept Celtic ahead. But Milan were mainly limited to long-range efforts, with Kaka and Pirlo in particular showing their frustration as they blasted a number of efforts from 30+ yards – most of them causing more danger to the fans behind the goal than the Celtic net.

Celtic’s 3 central midfielders, Sno, Lennon and Jarosik performed admirably, with 19 year-old Dutchman Sno being the pick of the trio. Thomas Gravesen also impressed after replacing Jarosik after an hour. However, the wide men Nakamura and McGeady were poor, getting no change out of Oddo and Jankulovski, the Milan full-backs. And Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink had a tough job as a lone striker, but didn’t really impose himself enough on Maldini or Bonera. After Milan’s goal early in extra-time, Craig Beattie and Kenny Miller were thrown on, but neither had any impact on the game as Celtic failed to create any clear-cut chances.

Despite the defeat, there are many positive signs for Celtic – they have a good young core to their team with Boruc, McManus, O’Dea and Sno and all 4 of these players have proved that they have the ability to play on the European level. Indeed, had they slightly more firepower in attack, they may well have made it past Milan into the last 8 of the competition – Maciej Zurawski may have made a difference had he been fit. So the signs are that they may well reach this stage again next year, and possibly even further.

In the SPL, Celtic have moved to within 2 wins of the SPL title after beating struggling past bottom club Dunfermline 2-1 at the weekend. Kenny Miller scored early on and after a number of missed chances Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink scored with 15 mins to go. But on-loan Liverpool winger Adam Hammill scored late on for the Pars to set up a nervy finish. Rangers beat Hibs 2-0 on Sunday to ensure that Celtic could not win the title in this Sunday’s Old Firm match at Celtic Park. Charlie Adam scored 2 free-kicks as Hibs keeper Simon Brown had an absolute nightmare. The Gers this week announced the signing of St Mirren defender Kirk Broadfoot on a pre-contract agreement. The 22 year-old Scotland B international will join in the summer.

This week’s results and full table.

Celtic 2-1 Dunfermline
Falkirk 1-2 Aberdeen
Hibs 0-2 Rangers
Inverness CT 1-0 Dundee Utd
Motherwell 0-2 Hearts
St Mirren 0-2 Kilmarnock

Meanwhile, new Scotland boss Alex McLeish has been given some bad news ahead of the Euro 2008 qualifying double-header against Georgia (H) and Italy (A) – Darren Fletcher and James McFadden will definitely miss the Italy game through injury (both are suspended for the Georgia match anyway). Steven Pressley is suspended for these matches after being sent off when Andriy Shevchenko dived for a penalty in the match in Ukraine. And with many other players struggling for fitness it could prove an opportunity for some of the younger players to try to prove themselves on the international stage.