BORUSSIA MONCHENGLADBACH 1 CELTIC 1
CALLUM McGREGOR missed the golden chance to give Celtic a remarkable win in Germany tonight – and blow the Champions League group wide open.
The midfielder came on for Tom Rogic in the 69th minute as the Hoops chased the game, trailing to Borussia Monchengladbach in front of 46,000-plus fans in a sell-out stadium.
It was all-square after Moussa Dembele slotted in a 76th minute penalty-kick to cancel out Lars Strindl’s opening goal for the Bundesliga outfit in the first -half.
Three minutes from the end, a clever flick from Patrick Roberts put McGregor through with a clear sight of goal. Suddenly, a European lifeline looked to be thrown in the direction of the Parkhead side.
A goal at that stage would have most certainly given Brendan Rodgers’ side a crucial away triumph and three much-needed points. Unfortunately, McGregor’s accuracy was horribly out and he slashed a dreadful effort wide of the far post.
It looked impossible to fail to hit the target from close range, but, alas, the sub contrived to do such a thing and the Germans were relieved to hang on for a point.
As it stands now, Celtic are bottom of the group on two points with two games to play against Barcelona at Parkhead and Manchester City at the Etihad.
The Spaniards, who lost 3-1 to City this evening, top the group after four matches with nine points and Pep Guardiola’s men are two adrift. Then come the Germans with four and the Hoops on two.
If McGregor had shown a little more composure at the crucial moment that table would have looked so different.
The direction of the game performed cartwheels in eight first-half minutes when Celtic were cruelly denied by the woodwork with another shot that denied gravity.
And then Craig Gordon was picking the ball out of the net after the Bundesliga side took the lead with a simple goal on the break.
In the 24th minute, James Forrest touched a right-wing throw-in back to Cristian Gamboa who curled a hopeful ball across the Monchengladbach 18-yard line.
It bounced all the way to the grateful Scott Sinclair who took two touches before leaving keeper Jan Sommer standing with a superb arcing effort from 18 yards.
It looked a goal all the way until it swerved in flight, clattered off the inside of the left-hand upright and ran across the unguarded goal before the relieved shotstopper chased after it to flop on the ball.
The Germans realised they had survived a major scare and they made the most of it in the 32nd minute when they took the lead with a ridiculously easy goal as they carved open the the Hoops back lot.
Emilio Izaguirre was slow to react to a pass behind him to Thorgan Hazard and the Honduran also looked hesitant as he attempted to close down the cross.
It was duly delivered across the box and Strindl raced in front of Erik Sviatchenko and Mikael Lustig to volley a low drive from eight yards past the helpless Craig Gordon.
No wonder the Parkhead back lot looked embarrassed. They had been undone by two passes and Europe after Christmas looked an impossible dream.
But things changed dramatically following the interval after Andre Hahn had hit the bar after a terrible pass inside from Stuart Armstrong in the 65th minute.
Three minutes later, Dembele had a powerful drive beaten away by Sommer and in the 76th minute the French ace was given the perfect opportunity to level matters.
Johan Korb hauled back Dembele as he raced into the box on a through ball. Portuguese referee Manuel de Sousa immediately red-carded the defender and pointed to the spot.
Dembele, who missed against Barcelona in the first game, slotted it calmly into the corner for the leveller as Celtic went all-out for the winner.
And if McGregor had just shown a little of that composure in the fading moments Celtic would have been undoubtedly celebrating a momentous victory.
Still, there are another six points to fight for and we’ll give it our best shot.
TEAM; Gordon; Gamboa (sub: Henderson 84), Lustig, Sviatchenko, Izaguirre; Brown, Armstrong; Forrest (sub: Roberts 60), Rogic (sub: McGregor 69), Sinclair; Dembele.