FC MIDTJYLLAND 2 CELTIC 1 (Agg: 3-2; AET)
A POWDERPUFF extra-time performance propelled Celtic’s Champions League ambitions towards oblivion yet again in Denmark this evening.
A dreadful piece of goalkeeper from Vaslis Barkas and a stupid red card for Nir Bitton last week, an appalling miss from James Forrest that would have made it 2-0 tonight and a no-show in the crucial added-on 30 minutes saw the Hoops embarrassed in Europe’s elite competition once more.
Ange Postecoglou looked on ashen-faced as his team added FC Midtjylland to names such as AEK Athens, Cluj and Ferencavros on the list of mediocre teams who have extinguished their bid to make a splash at the level where it really matters.
You had to feel a certain amount of sympathy with the manager. His team were struggling at 1-1 in the second-half, but he had no-one on the bench to come on and add something dynamic to help turn the game.
Albian Ajeti eventually came on at the start of the second period of extra-time and his only notable contribution in 15 minutes was to get himself booked. At least, he proved he was on the pitch for a period of time.
CHAMPIONS LEAGUE EXIT…Ange Postecoglou knows that sinking feeling.
Odsonne Edouard? Once again, a massive disappointment. He showed in flashes, but he might as well as have been in the dressing room for the half-hour of extra-time. He contributed nothing when the Hoops were crying out for him to stand up and be counted.
And, yet, it could have been so different. Callum McGregor gave the team the lead in the 48th minute with an exquisite strike, but, unfortunately, Forrest, just on the pitch as a substitute for Liel Abada, blew the opportunity of killing the game stone dead in the 61st minute when he rolled one past the post when it looked impossible to miss the target.
The Danes just had time to say thank you before they raced up the pitch and scored the equaliser when the unmarked Awer Mabil headed beyond Scott Bain.
And just four minutes into the extra period, David Turnbull, who has had better games for the team, switched off when Evander picked out Henrik Dalsgarrd on the right. The midfielder wrongly claimed offside and that allowed his opponent to fire the ball across goal. Substitute Raphael Oneynika was unmarked to blast a shot into the roof of the net.
The Danes had come back twice in two games. Could Celtic do likewise? No, was the short and sad answer. Tom Rogic came on for the hard-working Ismaila Soro and the first thing he did was give the ball away with an awful pass. He did percious little after that.
Adam Montgomery came on for the ineffective Greg Taylor at the same time as Ajeti replaced Turnbull. It didn’t make a difference. Celtic did not again trouble the home keeper.
A whimpering exit from the Champions League followed and everyone at Celtic will acknowledge that yet again this is an opportunity missed.
TOO SLOW…Odsonne Edouard arrives in time to see Brazilian Evander flick the ball forward.
But don’t blame Postecoglou. When you are in dire need of a goal and you are forced to introduce Ajeti, you know you are in trouble.
Edouard took the kick-off and within seven seconds the Hoops had surrendered possession. Everyone of a Celtic persuasion immediately hoped this was not to be indicative of how the game was going to play out. Alas, it proved to be painfully accurate.
The visitors actually settled fairly quickly and Turnbull had the first shot on target after only five minutes when he fired in a rasping 25-yarder that was turned over the bar by the keeper.
The resultant corner-kick dropped perfectly for he unmarked Edouard, but, unfortunately, he snatched at the opportunity and skied his effort high into the crowd.
In the 18th minute, Christie sent the French striker racing through with a neat pass, but Jonas Lossi was swiftly off his line to drop on the ball and the chance was gone.
Celtic had a reasonable amount of possession and some of it was slick and some of it was sloppy. Going forward, Edouard, Turnbull and Christie saw their final pass go astray when a little bit of composure would have had a greater chance of bringing a dividend.
EURO STAR…Callum McGregor is congratulated by Greg Taylor and Dane Murray after his stunning volley.
Stephen Welsh was booked in the 21st minute for a rash challenge around the midway line and the young central defender will have to rid such rushes of blood to his head from his game or he will pay a heavy consequence.
The Danes pressed high and tried to force errors, but the young central defence coped well enough throughout and Scott Bain was rarely trouble for almost an hour.
On the half-hour mark Erik Sviatchenko won a free-kick for his team in their penalty area when he went down holding his head following a minor bump with Edouard. The Polish referee bought it and immediately stopped play and awarded the home side the foul. Sviatchenko certainly did not learn such underhand tactics during his time at Parkhead!
Five minutes from the interval, Edouard turned the challenging Sviatchenko, but was slow to get into his stride and an anxious defender managed to clear.
McGregor enlivened matters shortly after the break when a right-wing corner-kick from Turnbull was headed out by Paulinho into his path 25 yards out. The skipper took it on his chest and hit a sweet left-foot volley high into the roof of the net.
That was as good as it got for the visitors. Forrest should have scored in the 61st minute, but contrived to nudge the ball wide of the upright and a minute later it was 1-1.
Celtic got lost in a maze of mistake in their bid to reach the lucrative group stages of Europe’s premier competition and have no-one to blame but themselves.
Postecoglou now has the unenviable task of trying to get the players’ heads up for the league opener against Hearts at Tynecastle on Saturday night.
We wish him the best of luck. It looks like he will need it.
TEAM: Bain; Ralston, Welsh, Murray, Taylor (sub: Montgomery 105); Abada (sub: Forrest 60), Soro (sub: Rogic 98), Turnbull (sub: Ajeti 105), McGregor, Christie; Edouard.