Belfast Telegraph

Celtic in last chance saloon

By Steven Beacom

Two games, two promising performances, but ultimately TWO defeats for Celtic. There cannot be a third tonight when the Hoops entertain Ajax in the Champions League.

When the draw for the group stages of the competition was made, the prospect of Celtic repeating last season's heroics and reaching the last 16 appeared unlikely at best.

Results bear that out so far, but analysis of the defeats against AC Milan and Barcelona tell you that Neil Lennon's team really should be sitting pretty on four points right now rather than none.

A failure to capitalise when they were on top combined with a mindless lack of discipline has cost them dearly.

Hence the win or bust nature of this evening's contest at Parkhead.

What makes it so intriguing is that the famous Dutch outfit probably need a victory too if they are to have a chance of progressing to the knockout stages.

Ajax enter the match with a single point, picked up in their last encounter at home to Milan, having previously been hammered 4-0 by a Lionel Messi-inspired Barcelona.

Milan, on four points, and Barca, topping the table with six, started this group as favourites to go through and remain in that position.

Celtic, though, will feel that Milan can been caught, remembering that in the San Siro, for long periods they played the Italians off the park.

The Scottish champions passed the ball better and carved out opportunities yet were not clinical enough and somehow ended up losing a match they largely dominated 2-0.

Next up was a Glasgow reunion with Barcelona, who had succumbed inside a deafening Celtic Park the year before. The Catalan kings arrived without the injured Messi and rarely posed a threat until Scott Brown got himself stupidly sent off in the second half for a petulant kick at Neymar.

It was scoreless at that stage and even then playing with a man down, Celtic had a glorious chance to take the lead but blew it when Charlie Mulgrew headed wide from a few yards out.

Moments later, Cesc Fabregas headed in at the other end to give Barca a 1-0 win.

Punished once more. Lessons not learned. Same again against Ajax and Celtic will deserve to go out of the competition.

Another defeat would keep the Bhoys rock bottom of Group H. Note that third place means Europa League football, and while it may be a questionable consolation prize, it is better than only having domestic action ahead.

Lennon, his players and the fans will be bored to tears if that happens.

With the Scottish Premiership title already in the bag – they are four points clear with a game in hand – only drawing Rangers in the Scottish Cup would excite.

That's why Celtic so desperately need the result tonight, in many ways to keep their season alive.

They must take their chances. Over to you, Georgios Samaras and Anthony Stokes.

Belfast Telegraph

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