. . so now for the big one. The club's charter flight takes off for Helsinki tomorrow morning and within 36 hours they'll have an idea whether their entire campaign is going to take off. Get the job done against the Finnish champions, HJK, and they'll still be in the Champions League with the safety net of six guaranteed Europa League group games right through until Christmas. Go out, and their only certainty will be a fraught Europa League qualifier which could leave them eliminated from both Uefa tournaments before the end of August. Just think, Sir Alex Ferguson used to say squeaky bum time came at the end of a season.
A big show was made of unfurling the league championship flag, as is the fashion these days, and a ceremony involving fireworks and flamethrowers were followed by an opening day victory against Aberdeen which was grimly absorbing. But in truth those were mere distractions on Saturday. Only one thing counts for Celtic right now. The club is consumed by desperation to reach the Champions League group stage; success or failure in that quest will define how Neil Lennon and his players feel about themselves for months.
The players themselves are so caught up in it that they held a meeting to discuss the significance of getting through against HJK. "The players spoke together about the big need to win the games to be in Champions League," Biram Kayal said. "Everyone wants to feel that moment of being there with a big club like Celtic. We spoke together about it and believe we are going to do it.
"After two years together as a squad with the manager, we are building something good in the club. We need to continue that with success in Europe."
What Lennon acknowledged as a flat performance against Aberdeen gave no clues about the likelihood of them building on their 2-1 first leg lead against HJK. They laboured to make a dent on an Aberdeen side which grafted tirelessly to suffocate and frustrate them. Lennon's attacking players – Kris Commons, Georgios Samaras, Gary Hooper and Anthony Stokes, who had one of his off days – were constantly denied enough room to operate. The replacement of Kayal, making his first competitive start of 2012 after ankle surgery, with Paddy McCourt in the still-goalless closing stages was an acknowledgement that Celtic needed a can-opener.
They will have to be sharper against the Finns and surely they will be. The crisp passing and high tempo which was often evident in the first leg was absent against Aberdeen, who constantly broke up their moves, but the enormity of the match is likely to lift the level of their performance in Helsinki. A clean sheet would guarantee their progress and there was mild encouragement for them in how comfortably they dealt with Niall McGinn, Jonny Hayes and Scott Vernon, the Aberdeen forwards.
Charlie Mulgrew will return from suspension to play in Finland while James Forrest will be available after a minor groin strain. Scott Brown may be considered despite a hip problem which may require an injection now and further attention as the season unfolds. Other than Ki Sung-Yueng, the Olympian, Lennon should have all his men available.
On the evidence of their Parkhead display Aberdeen can anticipate a fine season. Their play was calm and disciplined. Russell Anderson and Andrew Considine took it in their stride it at the back and Gary Naysmith, Ryan Jack and Gavin Rae were equally composed. Oddly it was the summer signings who have prompted real optimism, Hayes and McGinn, who were less influential.
The team put in an enormous shift. They didn't create enough to look like snatching a win but nor did they look likely to concede until Jamie Langfield's shocking mistake 11 minutes from time. Aberdeen were slow to close down Commons when Celtic took a short corner, but even so Commons struck what amounted to a pass back at the Aberdeen goal and Langfield inexplicably allowed the soft effort to squirt into his net at the near post. There is a knockabout, almost affectionate element to Langfield's "Clangers" nickname but it was beyond a joke to the noisy 1500 travelling supporters who felt he'd let them down again.
"Obviously Jamie is gutted about the way the goal has gone in," said Rae. "But as a team we switched off and missed their short corner. Jamie's put his hand up and said sorry. It'll happen to all the players this season but it's tough when we put so much into the match."
On the assumption that Aberdeen address their goalkeeping issue – Jason Brown, a substitute on Saturday, makes fewer errors – it is possible that they could make the enormous climb from finishing ninth last season to a top-four place, or even second, this time.
"There is a positivity among the boys but it's one thing saying it and another thing doing it," Rae went on.
Aberdeen have nine months to prove themselves. Celtic must do so on Wednesday night.
36' Gary Hooper blazes a shot over the crossbar.
54' Ryan Jack follows suit as his effort sails over.
79' 1-0 Jamie Langfield makes another mistake to allow Kris Commons' weak shot trundle in at the near post.
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