Ljungberg jets in as Korean duo save Celtic
St Johnstone 0
Published 27/12/2010 | 05:00
FORMER Arsenal ace Freddie Ljungberg was due to fly into Glasgow last night with a view to signing for Celtic.
After watching his side score two injury-time goals through South Korea duo Cha Du-Ri and Ki Sung-yueng to beat St Johnstone and keep their SPL title challenge alive, Celtic manager Neil Lennon talked about the possible recruitment of the former Swedish international, who has latterly played his football in the United States.
"Ljungberg is coming in to us. It is not a trial or anything like that. It's so that we can have a look at him and he can look at us," said Lennon. "I don't think he is over the hill. I think he is 34, but he has always kept himself in good condition. He had a horrendous time with injuries, but in the last 18 months, he has played a lot of games in America.
"You don't lose the quality, he might be missing an edge, but we will see how he is. He has been a quality player for a long time, he is vastly experienced and again, it's just an opportunity that might be there for us. Johan Mjallby helped. Ljungberg's agency contacted us and Johan had a chat with him.
"Freddie is keen to come and he wants to play in Europe again. He is a big name, but that doesn't concern me as such, it is the quality he can bring to the club and if it is there we will pursue it."
Yesterday's Korean heroes Du-Ri and Yeung leave tomorrow for international duty in the Asian Cup, but in highly dramatic circumstances the South Korean pair marked their departure by bequeathing their team-mates a gift that could yet prove to be immensely valuable. Disruption of the fixture list granted Celtic five consecutive home fixtures in the run-up to next Sunday's Old Firm derby at Ibrox, but Lennon's players had shed six points from a possible nine in the first three instalments against Dundee United, Inverness Caley Thistle and Kilmarnock.
On this occasion the pattern looked certain to be confirmed with another split decision against St Johnstone and, indeed, 90 minutes had come and gone scoreless until Cha surged forward from right-back, switched the ball to his left foot and unleashed a fizzing drive which ripped into the far corner of the net. It was the defender's first goal for the club and was all the more surprising for coming off his left boot.
"That's the foot I use for standing and running, but when I was running down the wing I only had one thought on my mind and that was to go for goal," said Cha. Perhaps driven by competitive rivalry with his fellow countryman, Ki gathered possession deeper into the three minutes of added time and bolted half the length of the field to finish with an equally effective strike.
Between them, Cha and Ki guaranteed that Celtic will -- at the least -- stay within touching distance of Rangers by the time they visit Ibrox. The alternative was hardly to be contemplated by the Hoops' support -- a four-point deficit having played one game more than Rangers -- and the evaporation of the substantial advantage in goal difference established by a 9-0 win over Aberdeen in October.
If the talking point among yet another sparse crowd was of the possible acquisition of Ljungberg, now free of his contract with Chicago Fire, the immediate consideration was what changes could be made to the pattern that had seen Celtic draw three consecutive home games. In the event, Lennon called up Georgios Samaras, Paddy McCourt and Scott Brown in place of Joe Ledley, James Forrest and Gary Hooper.
From kick-off St Johnstone took the most direct route and they observed the festive spirit by gifting the ball endlessly to their opponents, but Celtic's lack of menace in front of goal protected the Perth side from damage. There were flurries which raised hopes among the Hoops support, one being a cutback from Ki that was palmed out by Peter Enckelman towards Samaras, only for the Greek to bounce his shot over the top.
There was also a forced effort by Daryl Murphy that stranded the goalkeeper, but drifted just past the post. That aside, Celtic could make nothing of Saints' decision to play so deep that they were almost confined to their own penalty area. Until that remarkable denouement, of course.
"When we hit the bar so late in the game, I thought that maybe this wasn't going to be our day, but thankfully we got over the line with two fantastic finishes," said Lennon. "Our South Korean cavalry saved the day, although there were times when I could have strangled the pair of them -- Ki when he duffed two good set-pieces and Cha when he got behind the defence again and again, but kept hitting the first man with his cross."