The sounds of friendly fire fade as Deila faces up to proper noise of Euro battle

LET the real games begin now that the phoney stuff is out of the way.

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Gaining a foothold...Charlie Mulgrew was giving no quarter in this challenge last night
Gaining a foothold...Charlie Mulgrew was giving no quarter in this challenge last night

Ronny Deila has negotiated his first month as Celtic manager, now he faces his first test.

Time has been of the essence for the Norwegian since he was named Neil Lennon's successor, with the clock ticking ever faster in recent days to a European date with destiny.

The challenge of KR Reyjkavik is one that Celtic should be able to overcome with relative ease as they look to advance through the first of what they hope will be three qualification rounds and Deila will have left no stone unturned in his preparations thus far.

If he can reach the heaven of the Champions League, the fans in Paradise will instantly take him to their hearts, although it will take continued success on the domestic front for him to reach the same levels of adulation he enjoyed at Stromsgodset.

Deila arrived at Parkhead and immediately professed his vision and now, with the first batch of pre-season matches taken care of, he has a chance to put it into action in a competitive arena.

The matches against Krasnodar, Rapid Vienna and LSK Linz gave the new boss plenty of food for thought. It was no surprised to see most of his heavyweights return to the ring against Dukla Prague last night, but the star names couldn't end their Austrian tour on a high as they were held to a goalless draw.

With the trip to Iceland to face KR Reyjkavik the next and most important drop-off point on a whistle-stop summer for Celtic, this was Deila's last chance to get his message across to the players, and those selected a final opportunity to impress the new man in charge.

With Fraser Forster back between the sticks, Charlie Mulgrew, complete with the captain's armband, in midfield and Kris Commons and Anthony Stokes in attack, this was a Celtic side that showed Deila meant business as he planned for Tuesday's KR clash.

There were yet more signs of encouragement for the 39-year-old as Celtic knocked the ball about well and pressed and probed at the Prague rearguard but, a low Stokes shot from Emilio Izaguirre's cross aside, chances were few and far between in the tentative opening rounds.

Instead, it was Dukla, and forward Michal Krmencik in particular, who the looked the most threatening as he spurned a glorious chance with only Forster to beat before forcing a stop from the England keeper and seeing a chipped effort go just wide of the far post.

Celtic were always keen to get the ball down and attempt to pass their way round and through their opponents, but there was a lack of cutting edge and guile in the final third, tame efforts from Adam Matthews and Beram Kayal hardly troubling Filip Rada.

The Prague keeper was soon called into action twice in quick succession, saving well from Stokes after he cleverly worked a shooting position before Virgil van Dijk's long-range effort was smothered.

As Celtic began to pick up the pace, it was time for Deila to make his first changes of the evening, Nir Biton taking over from Kayal in the middle of the park and Boerrigter's game coming to an end as he was replaced by Callum McGregor at the end of another low-key showing.

The next time Deila turned to those sat behind him, it was to give Tony Watt a rare run-out as the 20-year-old, utilised in a wide-left role in a brief cameo appearance, finally got a chance to prove he has a long-term future at Parkhead as the boss shuffled his tactical pack once again.

There was to be no dramatic off-the-bench heroics from Watt this time as Celtic continued their unbeaten run but failed to secure a victory.

It was another enlightening and interesting 90 minutes for Deila to ponder. Now we will find out what, and how quickly, he has learned.

Football

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