Celtic have crashed out of the Champions League following a seven-goal thriller, losing 4-3 at home to CFR Cluj.
Story of the match
Celtic endured European heartbreak in Glasgow tonight, losing by the odd goal in a 4-3 thriller at Celtic Park. Having done what many perceived to be the hard work in Romania last week, the Scottish champions were unable to produce the performance that many expected.
Lead changes hands again and again
Cluj were in the Glasgow side’s faces throughout the first half and took the lead on 27 minutes when Ciprian Deac left Callum McGregor standing to ghost in and head home. The Romanian’s held their lead until six minutes into the second half, when the in-form James Forrest slotted home following a slick passing move. This set the tone for a remarkable second half of goals.
When a defensive slip-up let in Odsonne Edouard to put the Hoops ahead both on the night and in the tie, the tide seemed to have turned decisively in their favour. However, a handball from Scott Brown handed Cluj a lifeline, with Billel Omrani converting the 74th-minute penalty.
However, Brown’s embarrassment lasted a mere two minutes. After Ryan Christie quickly restored Celtic’s lead, the club captain made a point of congratulating the goalscorer. That should really have been that, but Celtic defensive frailties once again cost them. Omrani scored his second of the night with ten minutes to go, then George Tucudean took advantage of Celtic’s desperate attempts to force a winner in injury time and added a fourth at the death.
Celtic now go into the Europa League, but will surely rue a missed opportunity to progress in the top competition, after conceding four goals at home to decent, but hardly stellar opposition.
Takeaways from the match
League form continues to count for little in Europe
Maybe their opening two league games flattered to deceive, maybe they don’t get enough practise against quality teams at home, or maybe they’re just not good enough. Whichever way you look at it, Celtic continue to fall short at Champions League level. Despite a decidedly average showing in Romania last week, Celtic were still favourites to go through tonight, but they bombed badly. Yes, injuries and an unfamiliar formation played their part, but Cluj at home should not have been an insurmountable task.
While European football is not yet over for this season - and the Hoops may frankly stand a much better chance of progression to the latter stages in the Europa League - regular participation (and qualified success) in Europe’s premier tournament is still a relatively recent memory. While domestic success is always welcome, it is expected, and virtually guaranteed. The SPFL champions are only at best-treading water at this level.
Attack the best form of defence for the rest of Scotland?
Following Saturday’s 5-2 win over Motherwell, it was suggested that teams may wish to take the game to the champions. Cluj may have significantly strengthened that argument tonight. Granted, few if any teams in Scotland can match the Romanians for firepower and overall quality, but the Hoops are undoubtedly stronger going forward than at the back.
Despite clawing their way back into winning positions twice, Celtic were unable to shut up shop. Other managers in Scotland may have taken notice. Steven Gerrard almost certainly will have. While lesser teams coming to Celtic Park hoping for a 0-0 draw will nearly all leave disappointed, those who set out to attack may get something different. Any domestic opponent who takes the game to the champions obviously runs the risk of being on the end of pasting, but they may have more chance of taking a point or more than if they come to defend.
Man of the match: Ryan Christie
When the dust clears from another Champions League exit, Celtic fans may reflect that a player struggling for form at on loan at Aberdeen less than two years ago has again shown that he can cut it at this level. Christie was a constant threat both as a creator and finisher tonight, making chances and adding a goal of his own. While most of Celtic’s forward line has rightly attracted praise this season, Christie is by far the youngest and is only going to get better. Hoops fans will look forward to him showing more of the same in the Europa League.