Belfast is a place renowned for a tolerant and inclusive civic atmosphere, and the city is sure to embrace Celtic’s players and staff with open arms when they arrive at Windsor Park on Friday to take on Linfield.
No trouble is anticipated at a stadium beloved for its friendly, cosmopolitan and absolutely not in any way sectarian crowd, as well as its high-spec modern infrastructure. Moreover, mid-July is traditionally a quiet and laid-back time in the Northern Irish capital, with no controversial or “incendiary” annual public events on the calendar. Really, it’s a time for the community as a whole to come together in a spirit of oneness.
It is therefore a complete mystery as to why the Glasgow club have declined to take up their ticket allocation for the match. All the more so given a vast number of Celtic fans actually hail from the city in which the game is being played. Baffling.
But Linfield are not as bad as those odds might suggest.
And with no away fans to help the visiting side, they’re capable of pushing the Scottish team right to the line.
Celtic have a recent history of losing to supposedly inferior in European qualifiers – remember Lincoln Red Imps? – and could be unsettled by the calm, welcoming ambiance of Windsor Park. It would take a brave – and perhaps misguided – observer to predict that Linfield will win the tie overall, but it’s not ludicrous to suggest they might pull off a surprise at home.
In their squad they boast a number of current and former Northern Ireland internationals, including goalkeeper Roy Carroll and midfielder Jamie Mulgrew, as well as a prolific forward in Andrew Waterworth. They’re well coached by the country’s all-time top scorer, David Healy, and are a team more than used to winning. You would write them off at your peril, and as a result 15/8 on Linfield (+2) doesn’t look a terrible bet.
On the other hand, Celtic have not lost in their last 33 competitive fixtures, and the last team to defeat them was Barcelona in November 2016.
They draw players from around the globe, and possess some genuinely exciting footballers within their ranks.
On a match such as this, there’s little value in backing them to win, even at a handicap, so there’s cause to look instead at a scorecast. It’s not unreasonable to see a tight game decided by a piece of magic, so have a look at Moussa Dembele to score first and Celtic to win 1-0 at 16/1.