Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 17 September 2014

Celtic crash to a European disaster

Celtic 0-2 Legia Warsaw (Legia win 6-1 on aggregate)

Celtic's Nir Bitton and manager Ronny Deila after the Champions League Qualifying defeat at Murrayfield
Celtic's Nir Bitton and manager Ronny Deila after the Champions League Qualifying defeat at Murrayfield
Legia Warsaw Michal Kucharczyk fires past Celtic goalkeeper Fraser Foster to score their second goal during the Champions League Qualifying game at Murrayfield
Legia Warsaw Michal Kucharczyk fires past Celtic goalkeeper Fraser Foster to score their second goal during the Champions League Qualifying game at Murrayfield

Celtic's Champions League hopes were demolished by Legia Warsaw as the Polish side won 2-0 with plenty to spare in the second leg of their third qualifier at the BT Murrayfield stadium.

Trailing 4-1 from the first game in the Pepsi Arena last week, a difficult task for the Hoops became impossible when Michal Zyro notched in the 36th minute to quell any notions of a famous fightback.

The Scottish champions were booed off at the interval and when Michal Kucharczyk added a second on the hour mark the atmosphere threatened to turn ugly for a while with the home side and fans ultimately happy to escape without further punishment.

Shell-shocked boss Ronny Deila said: “Tonight we lost to a better team.

“You have to say that after the two matches Legia were better than us.

“We started ok, put them under pressure but didn't create anything and then we conceded an early goal.

“It was always going to be hard after that and the second goal was also poor defending.

“We played too much backwards and sideways and a bit too slow. There wasn't enough movement in front of the ball.

 “We are going to work on this every day. We need to up the tempo if we want to do something in Europe.

“We will play in the Europa League in two weeks and it is very important for us to play European matches and play at the top level.”

It was Deila’s first big test as Parkhead boss since taking over from Neil Lennon and he came up well short.

Celtic drop into the Europa League play-off which is unlikely to stimulate their fans and while the loss of Champions League money — £20m is a familiar figure — will not debilitate the Parkhead club, there may be ramifications.

Few will be surprised if keeper Fraser Forster leaves for pastures new but others such as defenders Virgil van Dijk and Adam Matthews may feel the time is now right to move on.

Moreover, without the lure of European football's elite club competition, Deila may find it difficult to attract the quality of player supporters want to see.

It was crystal clear, over the two legs against Legia, that the former Stromsgodset manager's squad needs bolstering.

Without defender Efe Ambrose — who was sent off in Poland last week — Deila brought in left-back Emilio Izaguirre, midfielder Nir Biton and striker Anthony Stokes with Teemu Pukki and Jo Inge Berget dropping to the bench.

Legia looked potent going forward and in the 10th minute skipper Ivica Vrdoljak, who missed two penalties in the first game, had a speculative effort from 20 yards which required attention from Forster, seconds before his counterpart at the other end, Dusan Kuciak, did well to smother a Matthews cut-back.

In the 33rd minute Matthews drove down the right and into the Legia penalty area again but failed to find a team-mate with this pass.

Three minutes later, it was all over for Celtic.

There seemed no immediate danger when Kucharczyk sent Zyro through against just Izaguirre but he left the Honduran in his wake, drawing Forster and slipping the ball into the corner of the net.

Stokes forced a good save from Kuciak with a curling shot from 20 yards in the 56th minute before Kris Commons went close with an effort which just escaped the far post.

Striker Leigh Griffiths replaced defender Mikael Lustig which required a reshuffle, captain Charlie Mulgrew dropping back to defence but the Hoops were disjointed and dispirited, all too easily allowing Kucharczyk to sneak into the box, take possession of a Zyro flick and round Forster before knocking in from an angle.

The fans began to turn their ire on chief executive Peter Lawwell as they contemplated the loss of more goals.

By way of a crumb of consolation for Deila, both Lennon and Gordon Strachan failed to qualify for the Champions League in their first campaigns before going on to enjoy success. But the manner of this exit will haunt Hoops fans.

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