This was the sort of day we all dream of as young lads playing footy on the playground. It’s the type of match we re-enact with our mates at uni on FIFA. It’s the type of match about which we regale our grandkids. A heavyweight bout for the ages: Ali vs. Fraser, Tyson vs. Holyfield, Arya vs. the Knight King, all pale in comparison to this Clash of Kings. That’s right, Celtic faithful, this is the moment we’ve all been waiting for: The Battle to Avoid Last Place (of Division 1, no less). On the penultimate match day of the IFFC season, Celtic Beijing and held the fate of the Realm in their hands. It was simple: win and secure 10th place; lose or draw and risk becoming on the final match day.
Needless to say, tensions were higher at kick off than a room full of neckbeards during the GoT finale. Despite the gaffer’s instructions to sit off the opposition, the front four charged into several reckless challenges in the opening moments of the tie, reminiscent of a certain ill-fated Dothraki charge. After the nerves settled, the lads grew into the game and the central midfield trio and aspiring talk show hosts John, John and Josh began to pull the strings more effectively than Littlefinger, Varys and the Imp ever could.
Despite asserting control of the game early, the Celtic backline allowed the Rangers to carve out a few half-chances from long balls over the top. As the pressure from the opposition mounted, John ‘The Dornish Bastard’ Sands opened the release valve with a delicious clearance/through-ball to Franky ‘The Other Clegane’ Carter, who delicately chipped the keeper. 1-0 Celtic.
The lead, much like Daenerys’ rule over Westeros, was short-lived. The Other Clegane nearly made it 2-0, but Rangers’ keeper (whose name I think is Hodor) managed to push the diving headed effort wide. Minutes later, miscommunication in the back led to Doc ‘Winter Already Came’ O’Connor having to make a reaction save, which spilled to an on-rushing Rangers attacker. 1-1. Celtic responded with a flurry of attacks, with the Dornish Bastard spraying balls around like wildfire, John the Elder smashing half-volleys, and Brendan Giantsbane hitting the crossbar.
Just before halftime, the two outside backs Marcos and Jonny Shepard (get this man in midfield, and the opposition will have no clue what’s going on) made way for the fresh legs of Sean Spillane and Karl O’Dwyer. Kieron Nolan of House Ignite-Recruitment made way for Oisin on the wing.
The second half continued much like the first; Celtic having the lion’s share of possession and chances, while Rangers pinged balls over the top in the hopes of breaking the deadlock. Fortunately for the bhoys, Sean ‘Master of Whispers’ McSheffery graced the backline with his presence, keeping us in position (well, except for Karl). Meanwhile, his stalwart partner, Zach ‘Master of Coins’ Santosuosso (yes, it’s a non-foreskin centric Jew-joke!), headphoned away everything that came his way. It seemed the match was headed to a draw, when John ‘Take a touch!’ Harkin took a touch and smashed a wayward clearance into the side netting from the top of the area.
It seemed that Celtic Beijing would coast to its second straight victory and secure that illustrious 10th spot. Luke V was brought on to provide fresh legs on the wing, and it appeared the lads were prepared to see the game out. That is, until the 80th minute when a backpedaling Zach misjudged a ball over the top and ACCIDENTALLY handled the ball just on the edge of the box, earning him his first booking of the season. Fortunately, the ensuing free-kick was smashed harmlessly into The Wall.
The final 10 minutes of the tie were like the final season of Game of Thrones: stressful, clumsy, but predictable in the end. Celtic Beijing held on for the win and Bran sits on the Wooden Chair.