BY the time Celtic set about eliminating Liverpool from Europe in 2003 the club had played a total of ten competitive matches against English sides dating back to the first meeting against Liverpool in the 1966 Cup Winners Cup semi-final.
In this CQN series which began last week we have been looking back at Celtic’s English opponents in Europe and so far have covered the first five ties, one a decade in the 60s, 70s, 80s 90s and then into the 21st century when we knocked Blackburn out of the UEFA Cup on our way to Seville.
We’ll also have a look at our games against Spanish and German sides over the next few weeks.
In these ten matches against English sides in Europe Celtic have won 5, drawn 3 and lost 2 but were eliminated on three out of five occasions. All matches were close affairs with Celtic notably playing well in the away ties.
Links to the features on the earlier ties are below.
Celtic were drawn against Liverpool for third time in Europe in the quarter finals of the UEFA Cup in 2003. This would be Celtic’s second “Battle of Britain’ fixture in this UEFA Cup campaign. Like the previous occasions against Liverpool, the first game was at Celtic Park and Celtic were hoping it would be third time lucky, following the very narrow defeats in 1966 and 1997.
As usual, the atmosphere was electric, as the teams lined up on Thursday March 13th. Gerry Marsden had led the 60,000 crowd in a rousing rendition of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone.’ Celtic’s attacking intentions were obvious with Martin O’Neill, as he had done at Ewood Park, playing Sutton instead of Lambert. Celtic got off to a flying start and, after just 20 seconds, Hartson latched on to a Sutton knock-down and clipped the top of the bar with a thundering shot. Shortly after that, Larsson put Celtic 1 up. Larsson had astounded everyone by recovering from a broken jaw in less than 5 weeks.
Strangely, Celtic seem to peak too early and started drifting out of a game that they had totally controlled in the opening minutes. It was no surprise when Liverpool, having found their rhythm, equalised in the 17th minute. Young Jamie Smith, a surprise choice at right back, showed his inexperience. He lunged at John Arne Riise, failed to get the ball then the Norweigan found Emile Heskey, who equalised. Nothing was going right now for Celtic and Alan Thompson, a key performer in European matches, was taken off injured and replaced by Steve Guppy.
The second half saw a greatly improved Celtic performance and danger man, Larsson, came close several times. Jamie Smith started to be a threat, with his strong running on the right and he made amends for his first half error. Similarly, Guppy was stretching Liverpool on the other side. Michael Owen was almost invisible, as he was effectively shackled by Balde and Mjallby. As the match entered the final quarter both sides looked exhausted from their earlier endeavours. Larsson, in particular, seemed to tire but this was hardly surprising as he had been out of action for a month. Both teams seemed content to settle for a draw and to let the outcome be decided on Merseyside. Unfortunately, just before the end, the game was marred by Diouf, who needlessly spat at a Celtic fan.
Seven days later, the action resumed with Celtic realising they would have to attack as they needed to score in order to avoid elimination. Celtic showed, from the start, that they were prepared to go on the offensive. Early on, Thompson intercepted a stray Hamann pass in a dangerous area but his shot went over the bar. Larsson curled a free kick from 30 yards, which Liverpool goalkeeper Jersey Dudek acrobatically turned round the post. Hartson was tormenting the Liverpool rearguard and came tantalisingly close with 2 headers.
Liverpool were content to sit back because, just like 6 years earlier, they knew that a 0-0 draw would take them through to the semi finals. However, this was always going to be a dangerous tactic. Celtic had scored in each of their previous 49 matches and, just before half time, Alan Thompson made it 50 when he scored from a free kick, driving the ball under the wall and into the corner of the Liverpool net.
Liverpool got off to a lethargic start when play resumed. Their whole game had been based on qualifying on the back of a 0-0 draw and they found it difficult to adjust to the new reality. However, 7 minutes into the second half, Gerrard was put through by Owen and it took Rab Douglas to rescue Celtic. Both teams continued to make chances, which were squandered. However, with less than 10 minutes remaining, John Hartson put the result beyond all doubt. He exchanged a one-two with Larsson, beat Hamann and brilliantly sent a 25 yard shot past Dudek.
The celebrations could begin. Only 8 minutes remained and Liverpool required to score 3 times.
This result, more than the Blackburn win, announced to Europe that, after almost 30 years, Celtic were again a force in European football. Strangely, in those 2 ties as well as the semi final against Boavista, Celtic’s most impressive displays came in the away games.
By contrast, in European Champions’ League matches, both before and after the glorious run to Seville, Celtic had been excellent at home but had a notoriously bad record in away matches. The victories against both Blackburn and Liverpool saw average displays at home, with tremendous 2-0 wins in both away games.
And at the end of the Liverpool tie Celtic’s record in European competitions against English sides was won 6, drawn 4 and lost 2.