Celtic have borne Shunsuke Nakamura's absence well over the last three months, even reaching the last 16 of the Champions' League without their talisman, but the midfielder announced his return from a knee injury yesterday with a sublime moment of skill.
The little Japanese player curled in a third goal from 20 yards, as the Scottish Cup holders overcame Stirling Albion's impressive resistance in this fourth-round tie, to indicate he is ready for the bigger battles ahead. The occasion was preceded by a tribute to Phil O'Donnell, who won the title with Celtic exactly 10 years ago. The two giant screens carried images of O'Donnell's goals in green and white, while the ground echoed to the name of the man who died of a heart attack playing for Motherwell just 14 days earlier.
The latest player to wear the colours is Andreas Hinkel. The right-back was making his Celtic debut after his £2.1m move from Seville. If the German international was suffering a culture shock after swapping La Liga opponents for Stirling Albion, he did not show it.
Hinkel's composure and fine crossing were the key part of the first half, picking out Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink on two occasions for the Dutchman to fire a shot and header wide.
Stirling Albion may be at the bottom of the First Division, but their defensive organisation was impressive and their patient passing, flawless. Celtic, though, finally made the breakthrough in the 37th minute. Aiden McGeady outpaced Paul Nugent on the left and flighted a perfect cross that begged Vennegoor of Hesselink to finish it off, which he did with a firm diving header.
Stirling were indebted to Scott Christie, their goalkeeper, for not heading to the dressing room two goals down, as he leapt to parry Scott McDonald's fierce shot past the post.
Celtic maintained a higher tempo in the second half, and Scott Brown ought to have scored after a sublime turn but his shot flew well past. However, the reward for Celtic's play arrived in the 70th minute.
Hinkel had initially caught the eye with a good run on the right flank but when the ball was worked to the left, Lee Naylor advanced into the box and cut back for McDonald to steer beyond Christie. Nakamura then sealed the victory with a vivid reminder of his talent.Reuse content