Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 25 December 2014

Europa League: Celtic fail to take chances

Sion 0 Celtic 0: Celtic found Sion goalkeeper Andris Vanins just too formidable a barrier in the first leg of their Europa League play-off clash at Parkhead.

The slick-passing visitors proved more than a match for Neil Lennon's men although the Hoops had their chances.

However, in a frustrating night in the east end of Glasgow, Sion's inspired number one had good saves from Charlie Mulgrew, Kris Commons and substitute Shaun Maloney to keep the tie in the balance ahead of the second leg next week in Switzerland.

The Parkhead club will certainly have to improve if they are not to find themselves out of Europe again so early in the season, but Sion showed enough to promise a tasty return game.

Lennon, who raged for most of the night on the touchline, was dealt a blow when stopper Kelvin Wilson had to drop out with a leg injury.

Mulgrew came inside to partner Daniel Majstorovic in the heart of the Hoops defence with Mark Wilson moving to left-back and Cha Du-ri in at right-back for his first appearance of the season.

Goalkeeper Fraser Forster, signed last night on another season-long loan deal from Newcastle, made his second debut in place of Lukasz Zaluska, who dropped to the bench as striker Georgios Samaras replaced Gary Hooper, who injured his ankle against Dundee United at the weekend.

The match was surrounded by some intrigue as Sion had travelled to Glasgow with five players who, in the eyes of FIFA, were ineligible.

The Swiss club had allegedly broken a signing embargo to recruit the players and two of them, Pascal Feindouno and former Hearts defender Jose Goncalves, were in the starting line-up.

Lennon's men were being asked questions not posed on a weekly basis in Scotland as they scurried around trying to get their fair share of possession.

Gradually Celtic stepped up the pressure. Vanins spilled Mulgrew's cut-back to cause some panic in the visiting defence but Samaras' back-heel from 10 yards was blocked by sheer numbers.

Commons had a close-range header saved by the Sion goalkeeper and the same player began the second half with a drive from distance that was always heading over the bar.

Moments later, Samaras was equally lofty with his half-volley from 14 yards from another Cha cross. In the 68th minute Maloney replaced Stokes to some jeers from the home fans, wondering perhaps how Samaras had avoided the hook.

Two minutes later, though, Maloney was brought down 25 yards from goal by Jose Adailton and his free-kick had Vanins diving down to his right-hand post to keep the ball out and Samaras' attempt from the rebound. With his last throw of the dice Lennon sent on fans' favourite Paddy McCourt for Samaras to huge cheers for the Northern Ireland international, but it was Ki Sung-yueng who tested Vanins next with a low drive which the goalkeeper blocked.

The Hoops players trooped off to the sound of boos from their own supporters, who will view next week's game with some trepidation.

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