“Football miracles happen,” Lincoln defender and captain Roy Chipolina told reporters ahead of his side’s UEFA Champions League second qualifying round opener against the Scottish champions. “Let’s hope that Celtic have an iffy game.”
The customs officer – who had been working until 15:00 ahead of yesterday’s match – got all he wished for on Tuesday night. Efe Ambrose’s defensive slip invited police officer Lee Casciaro to put the Red Imps in front in the second half, and Brendan Rodgers’ side hit the woodwork twice as they strove to stave off a humiliating loss. “If we were to win it would be the biggest shock in European competitive football,” Chipolina said on Monday. Maybe it was.
His first competitive game in charge of the Hoops was a disaster by most measures, but former Liverpool boss Rodgers was not despairing yet. “Sometimes it can happen in games like that – one ball up the pitch and they’re in,” he said. “We’ve given ourselves a bit of work to do. I saw enough from the game, we created enough to go through.” And the quote that everyone picked up on: “There’s no embarrassment. We never took our chances and they took theirs.”
Furious headlines in the Scottish papers suggested that Rodgers had reason to be a bit more ashamed. In Gibraltar, meanwhile, it was party time, the British overseas territory’s chief minister Fabian Picardo putting out a statement reading: “Tonight’s victory demonstrated true Gibraltarian spirit. We might be small, we might be inexperienced at the international level, but we are not unnerved by our opponents’ reputation nor by the odds against us.”
That pretty much covered the mood on the Rock, although they have much to do if they are to avoid defeat in Glasgow next week – at Celtic Park, which could comfortably contain the entire man and barbary macaque population of Gibraltar.
“When you look at the history of both clubs, nothing has changed,” Chipolina said after the game. “Celtic are still a massive club and they are still favourites in the tie – but I don’t think anyone expected us to be going over to Glasgow with a 1-0 lead. We will be going over there more confident than we thought and, if miracles can happen again, we will knock Celtic out of the Champions League.”