MALMO 2 CELTIC 0 (Agg: 4-3)
CELTIC’S Champions League dream disappeared in an expensive maze of mistakes in Malmo this evening.
They meekly surrendered their opportunity to gatecrash the £15million group stages of Europe’s elite tournament by once again demonstrating they could not cope with clearing straightforward corner-kicks.
The Swedes capitalised with their last kick of the ball in Glasgow because of that stark inability and they managed to take advantage twice again in front of their own fans in a disappointing evening for the SPFL champions.
It was a night where Celtic required inspiration, but their lack of speed of thought cost them dearly. When they needed to up the pace, they found they did not have another gear.
This was an opportunity lost against an ordinary team that is struggling in their own league. Mind you, Celtic’s cause was not helped by some shocking refereeing decisions.
The first-half ended in controversy when Serbian official Milorad Mazic mysteriously ruled out what looked like a perfectly good goal from Nir Bitton just before the turnaround.
Stuart Armstrong swirled in a left-wing corner-kick and the Isreali got in front of the flapping Johan Wiland, the keeper who had struggled with high balls in Glasgow last week.
The ball broke free and Bitton hammered the ball into the inviting net. The Celtic players and fans celebrated in unison, but, remarkably, the match official cancelled the effort. Chris Sutton on BT Sports thought there may have been an infringement from Leigh Griffiths on the nervy goalkeeper but the goal was ruled out for a CELTIC handball! If you look at the image at www.facebook.com/CQNMagazine you’ll see how bad a mistake that was.
There was absolutely nothing wrong with the effort and it let a very fortune Malmo and their keeper out of jail.
That would have made it 1-1 on the night and restored the Hoops’ one-goal advantage after they had conceded a soft effort in the in the 25th minute to allow the home side to sneak into the lead.
The loss of the goal pinpointed some glaring deficiences in the zonal marking system as Vicot Yotun swung in a right-wing corner-kick. Markus Rosenberg was allowed to take a run and jump at the cross while Virgil van Dijk tried to get in front.
Craig Gordon didn’t look comfortable, either, as he hesitated and the Swedish side’s 32-year-old talisman got in front of both Celtic defenders to get a close-range shoulder into the net.
The SPFL champions had thrown their opponents a lifeline at Parkhead last week when they allowed them to score in the fading moments after a left-wing corner-kick. Tonight they staged an action replay, this time the ball being delivered from the opposite wing.
There was obvious bad feeling simmering between the sides even before kick-off and it didn’t take long for it to become evident during the encounter.
Within two minutes there was the pathetic sight of veteran coach Age Hareide waving an imanginary card at the referee for an Armstrong tackle on Nikola Djurdjic who was only too happy to fall over in a slight breeze.
Leigh Griffiths had an early opportunity when he latched onto a long ball down the right while the home defenders dithered. Unfortunately, he slashed at the ball when composure was required and his mishit effort sailed harmlessly wide of the target.
That was about as close as the newly-restored Scottish international attacker came to getting a goal on a night where he lacked support.
Celtic created problems for themselves with some careless passing. There was endeavour, but little enterprise from skipper Scott Brown and Stefan Johansen, who was particularly disappointing, in the middle of the park. Johansen’s chance a week ago which would have made it 3-0 may well have been the key moment in the tie for this Celtic side that was outfought by the Swedish champions.
Kris Commons came on for the toiling Armstrong at the interval, but he failed to inject sparkle into a pedantic, pedestrian Celtic side.
Gordon made two remarkable saves from Djurdjic and then Rosenberg to keep the Hoops in it in the 54th minute.
However, within seconds they had conceded from another corner-kick and oblivion stared them straight in the face.
This time substitute Filipe Carvalho outjumped a hesitant Van Dijk to flick a near-post header wide of Gordon. The unimpressive Dedryck Boyata appeared to get the last touch on the goal-line, but it was already heading into the net.
It was an awful goal to lose. Three corner-kicks, three goals and Malmo were on their way to a £15million jackpot and Celtic were toppling towards the consolation prize of the Europa League for the second successive season. 3 corners each costing Celtic £5million!
Dundee United recruits Nadir Ciftci and and Gary Mackay-Steven were sent on for Bitton and Forrest, but the tie was already running away from a basically clueless Celtic by that stage.
It could have been all so different if Bitton’s goal had been allowed to stand, but there were still questions to be asked about this display and the lack of a Plan B from the bench. Boyata was allowed time on the ball once again as playmaker Van Dijk was closed down immediately. Celtic were therefore exposed by leaving the new signing from Manchester City with the ball at his feet.
You would be hard pushed to give any Celtic player passmarks on this performance. Craig Gordon had a decent game.
In the end, that tells the complete story.
TEAM: Gordon; Janko, Boyata, Van Dijk, Mulgrew; Brown, Bitton (sub: Ciftci 72); Forrest (sub: Mackay-Steven), Johansen, Armstrong (sub: Commons 46); Griffiths.