What a soul-destroying end to a match! With only a few minutes left, the Celtic players could feel quite happy with their efforts on the night. They had come out with the right attitude, got an early goal from the penalty spot, then competed very effectively with their lively opponents from Serie A, whose goalkeeper kept the score down on several occasions. Then, with only a few minutes left and Udinese stepping up the pace, another penalty decision, this time in favour of the Italians, allowed the visitors to snatch the point they had obviously come to play for.
After such a late blow, it is difficult to be truly clinical in one’s assessment of the game. However, with the Italians making several changes from what would be regarded as their strongest side, the match was there for Celtic to take by the scruff of the neck and this they did for long periods. Unfortunately, while the defence gave a competent display, there was some mis-firing amongst the forwards, who certainly did have some chances to put away. So, I should imagine that the manager will privately have mixed feelings about the result.
He will be pleased that his much-criticised back four dealt fairly comfortably with Udinese’s attacks and with the commitment his side showed throughout the 90 minutes. On the debit side, Neil must rue the missed chances across the forwards and be disappointed that a weakened Udinese managed to escape with a draw.
Now, the team must put the Europa League – something of a distraction this season – to one side and prepare for a difficult match in the campaign for the most important prize of the season, the SPL title. Under their new manager, Hearts have had something of a roller-coaster of a first few weeks in the league, as their record of played 9, won 3, drawn 3, lost 3 might suggest. However, they do have probably more players of quality than any side out-with the Old Firm, can raise their game when the occasions arises and will be pumped up to push Celtic all the way.