BAYER LEVERKUSEN 3 CELTIC 2
CELTIC blew their chances of progression in the Europa League when they lost two goals inside five minutes in the late stages at the BayArena tonight.
The defence again failed to hold onto an advantage and hopes of a historic win on German soil were dynamited, despite a heroic display from Joe Hart.
The keeper pulled off several memorable saves to keep the team in the contest and with only eight minutes of regulation time to be played, the visitors were leading 2-1 through a classy penalty-kick from Josip Juranovic and a whiplash left-foot strike from Filipe Jota.
But the rearguard just couldn’t see it through when Anthony Ralston took a crazy swipe at a clearance and sent the ball spinning high into the air to the opposite wing. It was returned and the right-back failed to notice of the menacing opponent behind him.
BAWL BHOY…Ange Postecoglou shouts instructions from the touchline.
As he toiled to find his bearings, the ball was returned inside and Robert Andrech smashed a first-tie drive beyond the helpless Hart.
Disaster struck in the 87th minute when substitute Liel Abada gifted possession to Leverkusen and the ball was worked to Moussa Diaby who fired in a right-foot effort from 16 yards.
Hart was left unprotected again and this time he had no answer as the ball zipped past him low to his right.
And with that went the Hoops’ ambitions of setting up a winner-take-all contest against Real Betis who beat Ferencavros 2-0 at the same time as Celtic were collapsing to defeat.
Now the Spaniards can play at Parkhead a fortnight tonight safe in the knowledge they are through to the next stage along with the Germans and Celtic only have the European Conference to look forward to.
Yet it could – and should – have been so different.
PENALTY-KICK PERFECTION…Josip Juranovic sends his spot-kick soaring into the net.
IN THE NET…Filipe Jota prepares to congratulate team-mate Josip Juranovic after his neat effort.
Earlier in proceedings, a delightful penalty-kick from Juranovic threw Celtic a lifeline in the 39th minute after Andrich’s headed opener, but the good work in the first-half was almost undone as the interval approached.
The hosts hit the woodwork in a matter of seconds as the Hoops rearguard breathed a sigh of relief.
Spot-kick hero Juranovic gifted possession to an opponent and the ball was switched swiftly into the area the Croatian international had just vacated.
Diaby took a touch before setting up a wicked curling drive that exploded onto the woodwork behind the stranded Joe Hart.
The ball rebounded across goal, struck the unaware Ralston for Florian Wirtz who tried to flick in the ricochet, but only managed to strike the outside of the opposite post and the ball bounced to safety.
It was just about what Ange Postecoglou’s side deserved after a fairly composed performance that unfortunately lacked the required cutting edge where it mattered most.
EAR EAR…Josip Juranovic celebrates in his inimitable fashion.
The first effort on target keeper and skipper Lukas Hradecky had to deal with was the penalty-kick and he was left helpless with a clever piece of improvisation. Juranovic’s earlier spot-kick in the competition came in the 4-3 loss to Real Betis in Seville when he thrashed the ball to the keeper’s right.
Hradecky may have done his homework because he took off for his right when the defender struck the ball, but on this occasion the former Legia Warsaw star chose to dink it down the middle and it kissed the underside of the crossbar into the net.
The decision to award a penalty-kick was made by Greek referee Anastasio Sidiropolos after the intervention of VAR who spotted the German No.1 flattening Kyogo with a flying elbow in the build-up.
The spot-kick wiped out a truly awful defensive lapse when the Germans took the lead from a rehearsed corner-kick from the right. Andrich was allowed to run unhindered for about 15 yards from one end of the box to the other as he left Ralston in his wake.
DREAM-MAKER…Filipe Jota enjoys his glory moment after his goal.
He leapt high in front of Stephen Welsh to make a perfect connection from six yards and he glanced his effort wide of the motionless Hart.
It was very similar to the corner-kick goal the Hoops conceded from the same wing at Ibrox earlier in the season when Filip Helander was allowed a free header smack in front of Hart.
The keeper was in action nine minutes after the turnaround when he produced a stunning double save to deny Leverkusen. The former England international blocked one effort and it looked as though Amine Adeli had a simple tap-in.
However, the netminder made a spectacular save when he got back to claw the ball off the opponent’s toe to save a certain goal.
Not content with that, Hart then had a major role to play as Celtic took the lead in the 56th minute.
He cleanly plucked a right-wing cross out of the air and immediately released James Forret on the right. He knocked the ball inside to David Turnbull, took the return and moved the ball on for Nir Bitton.
It looked as though the move had broken down before the quick-thinking Kyogo presented a pass in front of the inrushing Jota and he fairy thrashed a low left-foot drive into the net.
It was a goal straight out of the textbook, but, unfortunately, the defence is still the team’s Achilles’ Heel.
WHAM…Filipe Jota takes off as he slams a mighty left-foot effort at goal.
TARGET MAN…Filipe Jota turns away as his shot zips low into the net.
In the 71st minute, Postecoglou made a double switch when he sent on Liel Abada and Mikey Johnston for Forrest and Jota.
It was clear the Scotland international had run his course in a comeback game, but the decision to remove the Portuguese ace raised an eyebrow or two and the German defence looked relieved.
Five minutes later, James McCarthy came on for the injured Nir Bitton and Albian Ajeti replaced Kyogo. It must be said the changes did little to enhance the rhythm of the Cetic side.
Kyogo had raced around from the start of the game without a pause for breath, but there are a few who would take a tiring Japanese striker for the Swiss forward any day of the week.
However, it looked as though Ajeti and Johnston might combine to give the Hoops a third goal, but the young Scot dithered on the ball and the chance was lost.
Six minutes of stoppage time were added and Turnbull came so close with a flying header that was touched round the post by the agile Hradecky.
So far and yet so far away. It was the story of Celtic’s night.
TEAM: Hart; Ralston, Carter-Vickers, Welsh, Juranovic; Turnbull, Bitton (sub: McCarthy 76), McGregor; Forrest (sub: Abada 71), Kyogo (sub: Ajeti 76), Jota (sub: Johnston 71)