CELTIC 1 AC MILAN 3
NEIL LENNON has got to hope bad things don’t come in threes after the loss to AC Milan in the Europa League Group H opener at Parkhead tonight.
The defeat comes close on the heels of the dreadful capitulation against Steven Gerrard’s Ibrox side in the east end of Glasgow on Saturday.
Now all eyes are on the visit to Pittodrie to take on Aberdeen in a crucial Premiership encounter on Sunday.
Quite simply, the Hoops cannot afford to make it a horror hat-trick in the north east.
Desperately inept defending presented the Italians with a two-goal advantage at the interval. Two efforts on target yet again resulted in maximum reward with Vasilis Barkas beaten far too easily.
The first came in only 14 minutes and was against the run of play after the Hoops had started brightly and had shown an urgency with Leigh Griffiths and Albian Ajeti leading the attack.
Diego Laxalt looked lively against his parent club as he raided on the left, but he was too easily swept aside when Samu Castillego cut inside from the right to sling a cross into the penalty box.
Shane Duffy was caught under the ball, Stephen Welsh was slow to react and Rade Krunic raced between the dithering defenders to get his head to the cross to send an effort swirling away from the struggling Barkas.
That stung the champions into retaliation and they tried to battle back into the contest, but they were not helped by some slipshod passing, especially from Olivier Ntcham whose range was out with passes going astray on far too many occasions. It was a mirror image of his awful showing against Steven Gerrard’s Ibrox side at the weekend. Thankfully, the Frenchman improved after the turnaround and played his part in an improved showing.
Barkas didn’t help his colleagues by giving away possession on four successive occasions with his clearances out of defence.
And when the Greek was called into action again to attempt to prevent the Serie A pacesetters from doubling their advantage three minutes from the interval he was again found wanting.
To be fair, he was offered little assistance from his defence with Callum McGregor and Duffy getting in each other’s way as Brahaim Diaz teed up a shot after service from Theo Hernandez had eliminated Kristoffer Ajer.
The on-loan Real Madrid youngster was allowed to line up his shot and he drilled the ball low across the floundering Celtic keeper low at his right.
CONSOLATION GOAL…Mohamed Elyounoussi’s slick header zooms towards the AC Milan net.
The Hoops had completed the x-certificate weekend show without a solitary effort on target, but, at least, they did manage one in the first-half when Ntcham fired in a low drive from the edge of the box, but it was well held by the Milan No.1.
It was no surprise that Lennon made changes for the start of the second-half with Ryan Christie and Mohamed Elyounoussi being introduced for the toiling Welsh and Christie as he went to a back four.
They looked more up for the challenge with Elyounoussi threatening twice on the left wing, but a careless pass from Duffy created alarm when he gifted the visitors the ball. Fortunately, they were crowded out by the combined efforts of Ajer and Frimpong.
Laxalt actually drew applause from Lennon when he tried a right-foot effort from 16 yards, but his effort cleared the crossbar. The lead-up play, though, had been crisp and precise and there had been precious little of that on show in recent games.
In the 64th minute, Tom Rogic replaced Scott Brown who had been off the pace for most of his minutes on the pitch.
Celtic pulled one back in the 77th minute after a Rogic shot had been deflected for a corner-kick. Christie swung in the award from the left and Elyounoussi’s timing in the box was perfect as he directed a header from eight yards low into the net.
Within moments, Lennon introduced Patryk Klimala and Greg Taylor for Ajeti and Laxalt as he pushed for the equaliser.
Elyounoussi then sent two efforts over the bar as the Hoops charged forward. Unfortunately, Christie squandered two deadball awards in good positions when his delivery was wayward.
Two minutes into stoppage time it was all over when Duffy was slow to react to an angled pass and Pettre Hauge raced into the box before clipping a shot beyond the outrushing Barkas.
A second successive defeat, but, at least, Lennon saw some fight and desire from troops in this performance.
TEAM: Barkas; Welsh (sub: Christie 46), Duffy, Ajer, Laxalt (sub: Taylor 78); Frimpong, Brown (sub: Rogic 64), Ntcham, McGregor; Ajeti (sub: Klimala 78), Griffiths (sub: Elyounoussi 46).