CELTIC 1 BAYERN MUNICH 2
PLENTY of positives, but no points – that was the story of a thrilling Champions League encounter against Bayern Munich at Parkhead this evening.
There was no sign of an inferiority complex from Brendan Rodgers’ side as they set about putting the Bundesliga giants on the back foot right from the start.
Unfortunately, there was no reward at the end of a pulsating 96 minutes and that was mainly down to two lapses in defence that cost the crucial goals.
The first bordered on the farcical, a schoolboy team would have been embarrassed to concede such an effort.
Celtic were looking calm and composed until the 22nd minute when they presented their grateful German visitors with a goal advantage.
Their keeper, Sven Ulreich, cleared a simple ball straight down the pitch that should have been mopped up by the Hoops central defence.
Dedryck Boyata, who otherwise put in an exceptional performance, decided to let the ball carry on instead of attacking it. Craig Gordon was too far off his line as the pacy Kingsley Coman sneaked in.
Mikael Lustig was slow to cover, Nir Bitton was elsewhere and the French raider took a touch as Gordon challenged.
There is no doubt the ball travelled upwards and hit Coman’s left hand. Either Dutch referee Danny Makkelle didn’t see it or deemed it to be accidental, but play was allowed to go on.
The winger took a couple of touches before sliding the ball into the inviting net.
It was a sucker punch of monumental proportions, a real Halloween howler from the Celtic defence.
It left Celtic facing a mountain against a team that really didn’t need any favours. But you must give credit to Rodgers’ men, they rolled up their sleeves and did their best to get back into the contest as swiftly as possible.
In fact, the Hoops should have taken the lead in the fifth minute, but Stuart Armstrong failed to connect from only six yards to let the chance slip by. It was a sitter.
It wasn’t one of those occasions where he should have hit the target. He SHOULD have scored. No argument.
Kieran Tierney, who had another inspirational performance, won the ball determinedly on the right after Boyata had headed away a left-wing corner-kick.
The defender pushed the ball in front of the excellent James Forrest who spotted Armstrong completely unmarked at the far post.
The winger flighted over an inviting cross that eliminated the Bayern defenders, but the midfielder tamely knocked the ball wide of the upright. He should have bulged the net.
There was a lot to admire about Celtic’s play, but Gordon will have to work on his distribution. Inside the first 10 minutes, his three deliveries were wayward – two going to the opposition and one sailing out of play.
Forrest was on fire right from the off and was driving at the German rearguard with verve and gusto. Moussa Dembele was making himself known to the defence – in particular Jerome Boateng – while Scott Brown and Arturo Vidal were getting acquainted in the middle of the park.
Eight minutes after Bayern’s thunderbolt, Celtic had a chance of a quick equaliser when Armstrong tried to pick out Dembele at the back post, but David Alaba got back to nick the ball off the French striker’s toes at the expense of a corner-kick.
Five minutes later, the powerful hitman was off target after he had been set free with a delightful pass from Forrest.
Armstrong, who looked a little off the pace in the opening 45 minutes, saw a low drive touched away by Ulreich for a corner-kick shortly after the turnaround.
Rodgers made his first substitution in the 63rd minutes when he withdrew the strangely subdued Scotty Sinclair and put on his talisman Tom Rogic.
Five minutes later, Gordon kept Celtic in the contest when he saved an angled drive from James Rodriguez with his foot.
In the 74th minute, though, Celtic did get on level terms and no-one could have begrudged them their first Champions League goal at Parkhead in four games after blanks against Borussia Monchengladbach, Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain.
Bitton played his part with some aggressive play on the left after Bayern had surrendered possession following a throw-in. He touched it to Rogic and the Aussie knocked it on to Forrest.
The Scotland international chipped a magnificently-weighted pass in front of Callum McGregor and he drilled an effort through the keeper’s legs into the net.
Celtic Park erupted and there were thoughts of going for all three points with Bayern on the ropes and the Hoops clearly the better team on the night.
Alas, the dream died four minutes later when the Germans broke forward and scored a second killer goal.
Coman and Alaba combined on the left before the full-back flighted a ball into the box. Javi Martinez was more positive than Bitton as he challenged in the air and his header flew past the helpless Gordon on his right-hand side.
Eleven minutes from time, Rodgers gambled and threw on Leigh Griffiths for Armstrong, but there was to be no late equaliser although Griffiths was lively.
Bayern and Paris Saint-Germain, who beat Anderlecht 5-0, are now in the last 16 of the Champions League.
Barring a disaster, Celtic will be in the Europa League after Christmas and on this form could well go deep into the competition.
It was a mighty effort from the players and lessons will have been learned. Two being you must take your chances at this level and realising you will be punished if you make a mistake.
A word, too, about the Celtic support throughout this dramatic confrontation. If there had been any doubts over their qualifications to win the Best Fans in the World award from FIFA they would most assuredly have been obliterated after tonight’s encouragement.
Take a bow, lads. The players, too, can hold their heads high.
CQN Man of the Match James Forrest.
TEAM: Gordon; Lustig, Boyata, Bitton, Tierney; Brown, Armstrong (sub: Griffiths 79); Forrest, McGregor, Sinclair (sub: Rogic 63); Dembele.
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