IT was all about pride and not points at the Etihad Stadium tonight as the curtain came down of Celtic’s European adventure for another season.
But the team that completed Group C with a hard-fought and well-deserved draw against Pep Guardiola’s big-money outfit was light years away from the one that kicked it off so tamely against Barcelona on a woeful night at the Nou Camp in September.
The travelling fans, who backed their team all the way through, applauded their favourites off the field, but they could have been celebrating a victory.
Brendan Rodgers’ men had their opportunities to win this encounter, but there were costly misses from Moussa Dembele in the first-half and substitutes Leigh Griffiths and Gary Mackay-Steven late on.
Celtic, in fact, got off to a sensational start when Patrick Roberts scored a stunning fourth-minute goal against his parent club.
Once again, the Hoops were pressing high against Guardiola’s side as they did in the 3-3 draw at Parkhead in September.
Keeper Willy Caballero was slack with a pass out to the left that was kept in play by a struggling team-mate and Mikael Lustig pounced on the loose ball.
He fed Roberts who only had one thing on his mind as he drove at goal from an angle.
He left Gael Clichy in his slipstream as he darted menacingly into the box before firing in a low left-foot drive.
Cabellero got a hand to the ball, but couldn’t prevent it from flashing into the back of the net.
Unfortunately, like the Glasgow encounter where the Hoops were ahead three times and couldn’t hold their advantage, City levelled ¬†four minutes later.
Nolito, who unspecified-6was roaming around the midfield to great effect, picked out Kelechi Iheanacho with a through ball that cut through the middle of Erik Sviatchenko and Jozo Simunovic.
The youngster took the ball in his stride before battering a powerful shot high over the head of Craig Gordon.
In the 16th minute, Stuart Armstrong released Dembele and his low shot was pushed away left-handed by the sprawling Caballero.
The linesman, wrongly, flagged it for offside because the French striker’s run forward was absolute perfection.
Two minutes later, Denbele should have scored. James Forrest carved open the retreating City rearguard as he jinked past Bacary Saga and Fernandinho to set up his team-mate.
The striker’s first shot was parried by Cabellero, but it bounced straight back to him and it looked odds-on he would roll it into the empty net.
Alas, Dembele, normally so composed, had a rush of blood to the head and wildly walloped it into the sidenetting. City breathed a collective sigh of relief.
And the powerful frontman had another chance in the 28th minute when Emilio Izaguirre hung up a cross from the left. Dembele got up above friend and foe to send in a header, but, unfortunately, it was straight at the City keeper.
Ten minutes later, Gordon pawed away a clever back-heel from Iheanacho and Izaguirre blocked Norilito’s follow-up effort.
The first-half ended on a controversial note when Roberts was clearly pulled back by the panicking Clichy as he raced into the box.
It looked a stick-on penalty-kick, but, amazingly, neither the match official nor the goalside assistant saw any infringement and the best Celtic could get was a corner-kick.
The Hoops were forced into an early change after the interval when Forrest limped off and Mackay-Steven was introduced for his first appearance of the season.
Just before the hour mark, Cabellero struggled to deal with an inswinging left-wing corner-kick from Armstrong, but Lustig miscued his return.
And, only moments later, the Swedish defender zipped past Clichy onto a Rogic pass, but blazed the ball wastefully off target.
Celtic were creating chances and had City on the back foot and, in the 65th minute, Mackay-Steven curled in a devlish effort from the edge of the box, but Cabellero dealt with it well.
City thought they had taken the lead against the run of play when Nolito blasted in a low right-wing cross from Jesus Navas, but he was a yard offside.
Scott Brown, making his 392nd appearance for Celtic, was putting in his usual 100 per cent effort and endeavour as he kept things simple at the back and in midfield.
Rodgers sent on last season’s 40-goal man Griffiths for Dembele in the 73rd minute as he chased a famous victory.
Five minutes later the substitute had an excellent opportunity to mark the occasion when Mackay-Steven set him up in front of goal, but his first-time low shot swept wide of the upright. He should have hit the target, at least.
And only eight minutes remained when Mackay-Steven was clean in on the keeper after a brilliant move down the left.
However, Cabellero was equal to his finishing shot and pushed the ball round the post.
It would have been fitting if that one had gone in because there is no doubt that Rodgers’ men have grown in stature in Europe’s elite competetion with every passing game.
Now the Hoops move from Manchester to Maryhill for Friday night’s Premiership tussle with Partick Thistle at Firhill.
If the Celtic players can maintain tonight’s tempo, the Jags are in for an awesome night!
TEAM: Gordon; Lustig, Simunovic, Sviatchcenko, Izaguirre; Brown, Armstrong; Roberts, Rogic, Forrest (sub: Mackay-Steven 55); Dembele (sub: Griffiths 73).
Thanks to Manchester City for CQN’s Photo pass tonight. More from Geo to follow.
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