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Celts' shock exit is tough to deal with, says Christie

 

Bitter blow: Kristoffer Ajer feels the pain as Celtic exit the Champions League. The Hoops have now bowed out at this stage in successive seasons, after losing to AEK Athens last term
Bitter blow: Kristoffer Ajer feels the pain as Celtic exit the Champions League. The Hoops have now bowed out at this stage in successive seasons, after losing to AEK Athens last term
Celtic manager Neil Lennon
Ryan Christie

By Gavin McCafferty

Ryan Christie admits Celtic were not streetwise enough as they lost a lead twice to crash out of the Champions League.

Christie put Celtic 3-2 ahead on the night - and 4-3 on aggregate after a 1-1 draw in Romania - against Cluj in the 76th minute but the brilliantly-worked goal was undone inside four minutes when the visitors made space to shoot before Billel Omrani netted from the rebound.

The final blow came after six minutes of stoppage-time, but the damage had already been done with Neil Lennon's men heading out on away goals before the visitors snatched a 4-3 win on the night, 5-4 on aggregate.

Celtic had earlier bounced back from a tame first-half display to overturn a 1-0 deficit just after the hour mark but Scott Brown's split-second of panic at a corner led to a crazy decision to handle and allow Omrani his first equaliser from the spot.

Christie said: "We need to be more street-smart, especially going up twice in the game and not really managing to see it out. It's a very bitter pill to swallow.

"Everyone is absolutely devastated. Everyone wants to play Champions League football at this club, everyone thinks we deserve to be there but you can't concede four goals at home and expect to go through.

"It's all very raw. Over the next few days we can look back and analyse it a bit more and try and learn from it, but when you go a goal up, especially in Champions League football, especially when you are at home, that should be the tie over.

"We wanted to keep going and get a bit more of a cushion but at the same time we need to keep the back door shut and we didn't."

Christie's goal was his eighth of the season and he was aiming to take his form onto the biggest club stage.

The 24-year-old was unable to break into the team when Celtic played in the group stages in Brendan Rodgers' first season, and was on loan at Aberdeen when they qualified again the following year.

And the former Inverness man could not hide his disappointment at having to settle for another season in the Europa League - if Celtic come through a play-off against AIK or Moldovans Sheriff with the Swedes 2-1 up ahead of their home leg.

"Since I broke in last year, me more than anyone else, I was desperate for Champions League football this season," Christie said.

"Coming off a treble treble, you put in all that hard work to hopefully go and push on again the next season.

"I think personally we are a Champions League team but you need to prove it on the pitch and get through these tough ties. Fair play to Cluj, they have come here and managed to outsmart us."

Meanwhile, Brown has said supporter frustrations should be directed towards him rather than manager Lennon as the Celtic captain apologised for some accidental social media activity.

Lennon admitted that the club would have to accept inevitable criticism in the wake of the disappointing result, but there was some surprise on social media when a screenshot circulated of tweets that captain Brown had 'liked'.

Among them was a tweet that read: "LENNON come on to f*** you're to blame. You played McGregor at LB, didn't you learn when BR played him? Look, you've made him look awful when he's a magnificent player. Some of the players even @ScottBrown8 need to say to Lennon that he's to blame this time. And Chris benched REALLY."

However, Brown soon apologised and explained that the sentiments expressed did not represent his own views on the club's management.

"Was just flicking through Twitter must (have) touched the button by accident," he tweeted. "Not my style to slag anyone off on Twitter. I am fully behind the manager and all the players are as well.

"If anyone should be getting a slagging or abuse it's all on me tonight as didn't perform. Sorry".

Celtic host Dunfermline Athletic in the Scottish Premiership on Saturday (kick-off 3pm).

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