In the Champions League we travel more in hope than expectation, but an away win, however unlikely, is possible. October 2nd 2012 was the last time we had 3 points on the road to celebrate. In fact it’s the only time. AB Murdoch relives the night big Sammy mugged the Muscovites with a memorable last-minute winner.
Deep joy doesn’t do it any kind justice. The feeling as that Samaras header sailed in to the far corner of the net was sheer ecstasy and absolutely deserved by a team that had stuck to their game plan, showed some real footballing ability and had to endure another honest mistake, this one almost completely ignored by the media because we eventually won.
Prior to the game we had the usual nay-sayers telling us how deficient we were, how Spartak had been terribly unlucky in Spain against Barcelona and how we would struggle on the artificial surface. Of course this flew in the face of the facts that up until then in Europe we had been note perfect that season, we had already played well on the Moscow artificial pitch a few years back and that, unlike the Benfica game, we had pretty much a full squad to choose from.
The first 5-10 minutes gave us hope, even though after 2 minutes we had already conceded a number of corners. But Celtic settled and, unlike previous disasters such as Donetsk, we didn’t concede.
12 minutes in, Victor Wanyama coming through the midfield wins a 50/50 and plays in Lustig. He takes one touch and swings in a great low ball which Hooper redirected brilliantly into the net.
Moscow were rattled and 10 minutes later Hooper had the ball in the goal again. Izaguirre had broken down the left, Samaras had taken over and his cross had been headed in. But Hooper had made his move a fraction too early and was flagged. Still, it proved that our goal was no fluke and we could get at them.
But this is Celtic in the Champions League and if we were ever going to win a game away it was never going to be a regulation 2-0 victory. We would do it the hard way.
First we conceded an equaliser just before half time. You could say a lot about the goal; we switched off at their free kick, Wilson was wrong side, Ambrose was sleeping, but the fact is the ball over the defence was exquisite, the square ball was played first time and was perfect and the forward was well placed. It was just a good goal.
Their second was a different matter. First of all we weren’t sharp enough closing down at the edge of our own box; second although the ball took a deflection the keeper should be putting it out of play but the main thing that was overlooked by all the TV coverage, all the papers, in fact everyone is that the player who squared the ball back was offside by a mile, way more than Hooper was but nothing was said. Incredible.
In the end it didn’t matter but that was a big decision and it certainly went against us. The next big decision almost went that way as well.
Hooper was sent through on goal by Mulgrew only to be first pulled back and then tripped. Incredibly the ref appeared to be on the verge of showing Hooper a yellow for diving. Everyone watching braced themselves for another stinking slice of Celtic Champions League luck, but then the ref seemed to get advice either from the fourth official at the halfway line or more likely the assistant behind the goal. The red card was waved at the defender and we had a more than fighting chance.
Lenny decided to go for it. Forrest came on to run them and with his first touch of the ball he levelled the game. Mulgrew put in the cross, Samaras stepped over the ball and young James placed his shot into the net (yes, yes, I know the keeper made a save and it went in off the defender but I’m giving him the goal – get over it).
Now at this point I was terrified; I knew we had a golden chance to win the game, but they were still a dangerous team and if we lost here to 10 men you could picture only too clearly the reaction of the Scottish media.
Happily the team were made of stronger stuff. With the clock at 89:32 we prepared to take a free kick just inside the Spartak half. Rather than lob it in, Commons waited for Hooper to run to him, completely unmarked, and take a short kick. He played the ball to Ledley, who in turn gave it to Brown. The skipper played the ball wide to Izaguirre, one touch and he swung in a superb cross. Now that the ball wasn’t coming in flat from near the halfway line our forwards could take a run at the ball and Samaras met it perfectly and directed it into the far corner.
Cue bedlam amongst the small band of Celts that had journeyed to Moscow and pandemonium in clubs and pubs all over Scotland (some in celebration and I dare say some in anger).
We couldn’t blow it now could we? Answer – within about 45 seconds of the restart big Kelvin Wilson had to make a last ditch clearance from within his own six yard box. But from that point we did something that I can rarely if ever remember us doing in a Champions League tie – we played the game in their half. We kept it in the corners and we almost grabbed a fourth when Brown, Hooper and Forrest combined, but Commons didn’t complete his run into the box and the danger was cleared.
However, we managed to see out the match from there with the ball barely reaching our half.
The final analysis of this game was certainly that the better team had won. At 2-1 down Lennie had taken off Wanyama for the more attacking Forrest and for further evidence that we had really gone for it you could look at the fact that the player following up Samaras’s winning header was right back Lustig.