City’s pre-season cranked up another notched last night with an entertaining 2-2 draw against Sporting Braga in northern Portugal.
The biggest plus of an evening that produced several was the sight of Gary Hooper notching his first two goals in a City shirt. In doing so he looked every inch the poacher Celtic fans had promised and whetted nicely the appetite of the watching travelling support.
If there can be a downside in a friendly, it’s that City allowed a fairly comfortable 2 goal half-time lead slip, the home side making wholesale changes at the interval that changed the course of the match.
However the positives still outnumbered the negatives on a balmy Portuguese evening that saw Hughton give a City debut to Martin Olsson, as well as a first outing of the new season to Michael Turner.
Both, while clearly a little short of match fitness, gave more than an indication they will be ready and raring to go by 17 August. Another plus.
Both of Hooper’s goals came courtesy of his predatory instinct and via ‘assists’ from a lively Elliott Bennett. The first was thumping right foot finish into the roof of the net after a beautifully weighted Bennett through-ball had given the former Celtic man the chance to round the keeper Eduardo, the second an assured side-foot finish from close range after the Braga keeper had spilled Bennett’s stinging drive.
Also encouraging in the first period was the high tempo City maintained throughout, prompted by a towering performance in the centre of the pitch by an impressive Leroy Fer.
The Dutchman – offering a more than passable impersonation of a young Patrick Viera – dominated the midfield alongside Alex Tettey, displaying skill aplenty to accompany his powerful presence.
In fairness, the second half was a rather different story with the half-time changes working hugely to the benefit of the home side.
With the tempo of the game slowing, the home side looked a far different proposition and enjoyed a greater share of possession as City lost the rhythm of the opening forty-five.
Braga’s second half performance was deserving of at least a draw – goals coming from Vinicius and Rafa – and provided Hughton’s men with their sternest test of the summer so far.
For his part the City boss was delighted with the workout and acknowledged it as one of the proverbial ‘two halves’ variety, with still plenty to work on as pre-season nears its finale.
Tuesday night sees the visit to Carrow Road of Real Sociedad, from which hopefully the Yellow Army will gleam an idea of what Hughton sees as his line-up for the season opener against Everton.
For now things look to be ticking along nicely, but how good it will be to see Sebastien Bassong don that new City shirt for the first time.