RENNES 1 CELTIC 1
IT was a tale of two spot-kicks and a sensational sending-off for Celtic in their dramatic draw in the Europa League opener in Brittany this evening.
Kristoffer Ajer gifted the French side the lead in the first-half with a silly challenge on M’Bye Niang and the penalty-kick was duly netted by the powerful striker.
But it was the Hoops who benefited from a rash challenge by Damien Da Silva after the turnaround when he decked James Forrest and Ryan Christie calmly steered his immaculate effort wide of Edouard Mendy for the leveller.
But what had been an entertaining and exciting encounter descended into farce when Spanish referee Jose Sanchez booked substitute Vakoun Issouf Bayo and then, only minutes later, ordered off the Ivorian for trying to get on the end of a keeper’s fumble following a long-range drive from Olivier Ntcham.
It didn’t look as though Bayo even touched Mendy, but the match official reached for a second yellow and the frontman was banished in the third minute of stoppage-time after coming on for Odsonne Edouard in the 84th minute.
GOOD CHRISTIE…Scott Brown and James Forrest congratulate scorer Ryan Christie.
French players started falling around as soon as a Celtic opponent went near them and the unfortunate Christie was booked after a French rival had raced straight into him.
When the smoke of battle cleared, thankfully, Celtic had earned a point they so richly deserved.
Christopher Jullien was making his first return to France since his £7million move from Toulouse in June and the giant defender put in a Man of the Match peformance with a towering display.
A moment of madness from Ajer gave away a cheap penalty-kick in the 37th minute after the Norwegian defender hauled down dangerman Niang in the box.
Ref Sanchez waited until he received confirmation from his assistant, but there was little argument – it was a spot-kick and the Hoops centre-back knew it.
AGONY…Kristoffer Ajer looks dismayed after his challenge gifted Rennes a penalty-kick.
SPOT ON…M’Bye Niang sends Fraser Forster the wrong way to give his side the lead.
It was a poor judgement call from Ajer and the French outfit capitalised on it big-style.
Niang took the award and sent it to Fraser Forster’s right as the keeper took off for the opposite corner.
Ajer’s rashness must have had Neil Lennon raging with his team settling into the pattern of the game and actually having the lion’s share of the possession after half-an-hour.
Mohamed Elyounoussi came within the length of a stud to getting the visitors off to a dream start in the 20th minute.
Boli Bolingoli zipped over an inviting left-wing cross which was dummied by Edouard at the near post to threw the defence off kilter.
The Norwegian international striker lunged at the ball, but just missed as it swept to safety and the Rennes defence breathed a sigh of relief.
BEST FEET FORWARD…Fraser Forster clears from Flavien Tait.
The nearest Julien Stephan’s team had come to opening the scoring before the spot-kick came in the 31st minute when £20million Portuguese winger Raphinha cut in from the right away from Bolingoli and Callum McGregor to fire in a rasping left-foot drive from 20 yards. Forster, though, was equal to the threat and threw himself to his right to push the ball away.
For most of the opening 45 minutes the champions had looked relatively comfortable and Forrest was seeing a lot of the ball on the right and creating problems.
Edouard sent an acrobatic effort over the crossbar early in the match from one of his crosses from the right.
THE HUDDLE…Ryan Christie is congratulated by his team-mates after sinking his spot-kick.
Celtic started the second-half in whirlwind fashion as they went in search of the equaliser and it looked as though they had a good claim for a penalty-kick when Christie was tripped just inside the box, but the ref wasn’t impressed and waved away what looked like valid claims.
However, the Spaniard had no option but to point to the spot in the 58th minute when Rennes skipper Da Silva brought down Forrest.
Christie looked the calmest man in Brittany as he strolled up to the award before sweeping it high to Mendy’s left.
END GAME…Christopher Jullien after his superb performance in France.
Lennon made changes as he took off Elyounoussi and put on Ntcham and the Frenchman made an impact with a pass to Edouard and he set up Forrest for a shot 25 yards out that sailed just over the bar.
In the 69th minute Jonny Hayes joined the action when he replaced the injured Bolingoli and the Republic of Ireland international was involved in a heated moment late on when he dived in to make a perfectly good challenge on Hamari Traore.
The Rennes player writhed around as though he might never walk again, but after a lot of finger-pointing and gesticulating he made a remarkable return to the action.
In the end, boss Lennon will be more than satisfied with an excellent performance from a set of players who displayed a lot of composure throughout the evening against dangerous opponents.
TEAM: Forster; Elhamed, Jullien, Ajer, Bolingoli (sub: Hayes 69): Brown, McGregor; Forrest, Christie, Elyounoussi (sub: Ntcham 57); Edouard (sub: Bayo 84).