Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Strachan Casts Off O'Neill's Shadow

It will be remarkable if Gordon Strachan resists the temptation to say 'I told you so' after his Celtic side stole a most unlikely victory over Manchester United last night.

Over a year ago it seemed as if the Parkhead faithful would never accept Strachan, the wee east coast scrapper with the big mouth, as a replacement for the sainted Martin O’Neill.

Of course that was after Strachan had presided over a calamitous five goal mauling by Artmedia Bratislava.

Strachan did then as we might have expected. He faced the world as he always has and got on with the job in hand. The result was Celtic coasting to the SPL title last season and Strachan buying himself both some affection from the fans and a crack at the Champion’s League proper.

Last night – despite all United’s possession and the vast superiority of their players – Gordon Strachan was able to claim his reward.

The shadow of Martin O’Neill may hang around the east end of Glasgow for a while longer yet but Strachan has surpassed him by taking Celtic to the knockout stages for the first time.

That he did so against all the odds, and by somehow outwitting his one time mentor and long time enemy Sir Alex Ferguson, will make his achievement seem all the sweeter.

United may well fancy themselves as being unlucky. But the fact remains that Celtic took their chance and United, for all the breathtaking slickness of their passing and movement, couldn’t score. Better teams than Celtic will dish out an even harsher punishment if the Reds can squeeze past Benfica.

Celtic can now enjoy the final game of the group stage. They won’t win the Champion’s League and last night’s results, despite the bragging rights it brings, does not make them a top European club.

But it does make them a richer European club and UEFA’s cash windfall will send a shiver down the spine of everyone playing SPL catch-up at Ibrox.

And it might just make Strachan feel at home in Glasgow.