Ljungberg helps Hoops to roll on
Berwick Rgrs 0
Published 10/01/2011 | 05:00
Freddie Ljungberg finally made his debut for Celtic as they laboured to a Scottish Cup fourth-round win against their Third Division opponents in sub-zero conditions at Shielfield Park.
The former Arsenal man's first appearance in the famous hooped shirt is unlikely to live long in the memory, but he promised that better is to come from him and his new team-mates.
"I've never experienced anything like it," said the 32 year-old. "The local community deserve credit for getting the pitch playable but it was icy, but you get on with it and I'm just glad that there isn't a replay because we have enough games already.
"We knew before the kick-off that it wasn't going to be pretty -- you can't showboat on a surface like that. Before the match I thought I'd be able to play for 45-60 minutes but I did a little more than that. Now I'm doing extra training and it's just like pre-season: in two weeks I'll be flying.
"I haven't played for eight to 10 weeks but our physio says my fitness levels are good and he'll push me on. The fans gave me a great reception and it was really nice to hear them sing my name."
It was an afternoon where the performance was always going to be secondary to the result and Celtic's priority was simply to progress.
The Wee Rangers started confidently, though, and might have had a penalty in the second minute when Steven Notman went down following a clumsy challenge from Charlie Mulgrew, but their appeals were ignored.
Darren Gribben had the ball in the net for the home side four minutes later, but the flag for offside had been raised before the striker shot.
Another mistimed tackle on Notman by Mulgrew in the seventh minute saw the Celtic full-back collect the first caution of the afternoon.
It was a feisty affair and Mark Wilson was next to be shown a yellow card when he clattered into David Greenhill just inside the Rangers half.
Celtic had been strangely hesitant but their nerves were settled when they opened the scoring courtesy of a schoolboy error by Berwick central defender Andy McLean.
Mulgrew's free-kick should have been cleared comfortably but McLean took his eye off the ball and failed to make proper contact. It broke off him to Daniel Majstorovic and the Swede lashed it into the roof of the net from two yards out.
Ljungberg, deployed on the left of a midfield four, showed some nice touches but was mostly a peripheral figure during the opening 45 minutes.
The visitors should have moved further ahead in the 34th minute when Paddy McCourt and Georgios Samaras combined to leave James Forrest with only Mark Peat to beat, but the winger's shot lacked conviction and the goalkeeper saved with ease.
Samaras appeared to be caught late after laying the ball off and was replaced by Anthony Stokes. Then Chris McLeod was booked for a forearm smash from behind on Ljungberg: it was football in the raw. There was a glimmer of hope for Berwick in the 50th minute when Mulgrew was woefully short with a pass back, but Lukasz Zaluska raced from his line to thwart Notman.
Ljungberg, clearly lacking match sharpness, was utterly anonymous after the break and it was no surprise when he eventually made way for club captain Scott Brown.
The Scotland midfielder injected some urgency into what had been an insipid Celtic performance and it was fitting that he should score the goal which put the outcome beyond doubt.
Beram Kayal, the most impressive performer on view, created the opening with a perfectly-weighted pass and Brown surged past two opponents before despatching an angled drive inside Peat's right-hand post from 12 yards.
Celtic manager Neil Lennon spent Saturday watching a series of FA Cup shocks in England. With Berwick's ground located south of the border, he was determined not to become the latest casualty.
"You look at those results and you realise that anything can happen on any day," he said. "We had to be careful not to over-complicate things because the pitch didn't suit the way we like to play. It was difficult for Freddie to make an impact under these conditions, but he'll get other opportunities to show what he can do.
"We're relieved to get through. At 1-0 you worry about losing a goal from a ricochet or a set-piece, but we defended very well and that gave us a platform." (© Daily Telegraph, London)