Jury out on Deila af­ter yet an­other night of Euro­pean fail­ure for Celtic

Ques­tions sure to be asked of man­ager af­ter lat­est set­back

The Herald - Sport - - EUROPA LEAGUE - MATTHEW LIND­SAY

CELTIC 1

AJAX 2

IT is hard to say with any great cer­tainty what the im­pli­ca­tions of a de­feat which ended Celtic’s hopes of pro­gress­ing to the knock­out rounds of the Europa League for the sec­ond sea­son run­ning will be for Ronny Deila.

On the face of it, a 2-1 loss at home to Ajax con­tin­ued the Scot­tish cham­pi­ons’ dis­ap­point­ing run in Europe – they have failed to win any of their five Group A matches to date and are lan­guish­ing in bot­tom place in their sec­tion.

Given their costly fail­ure to reach the group stages of the Cham­pi­ons League once again ear­lier in the sea­son, the re­verse should really in­crease the pres­sure on Deila as man­ager. Many will cer­tainly call for his ser­vices to be dis­pensed with and a re­place­ment found in time for the next cam­paign.

Yet, a Celtic side which was shorn of im­por­tant per­son­nel played well in dif­fi­cult cir­cum­stances, took the lead and, with a bit more qual­ity up front, could quite eas­ily have snatched the goal which would have kept their cam­paign alive.

The hosts were ev­ery bit as im­pres­sive as their ad­ver­saries who lead the Ere­di­visie over the course of an en­ter­tain­ing 90 min­utes at a packed Park­head. The de­jec­tion and dis­be­lief of their drained play­ers at the fi­nal whis­tle was ob­vi­ous.

A Va­clav Cerny goal for Ajax with just over two min­utes re­main­ing, as Celtic were push­ing for the strike which would keep their prospects of reach­ing the last 32 alive and were stretched at the back, killed them off. It was a cruel de­noue­ment. But it is a harsh game. Whether their man­ager will sur­vive is de­bat­able.

Deila had been dealt a huge blow in the build-up to the fix­ture this week when Scott Brown, his in­spi­ra­tional cap­tain and first choice cen­tral mid­fielder, was ruled out with lig­a­ment dam­age for up to three months. Kris Com­mons, too, was ab­sent.

Nir Bitton and Ste­fan Jo­hansen were sus­pended hav­ing been sent off and booked re­spec­tively in the loss to Molde three weeks ear­lier. It was, then, an un­fa­mil­iar look­ing Celtic team which took to the field in the East End of Glas­gow at just af­ter eight o’clock last night.

Kieran Tier­ney – the 18-year-old left-back who has made such an im­pres­sion dur­ing his first team ap­pear­ances this term and who was, by some dis­tance, his side’s best per­former against Molde – started ahead of Emilio Iza­guirre.

Cal­lum McGre­gor, who had last started a game against Raith Rovers in the League Cup over two months ago, and Stu­art Arm­strong, who nor­mally fea­tures in a wider role, were named as the cen­tral mid­field­ers in a 4-1-4-1 for­ma­tion. James For­rest and Gary Mackay-Steven lined up out­side them on the right and left wings re­spec­tively

De­spite nor­mally play­ing just off lone striker, where he can cause op­po­si­tion back­lines se­ri­ous harm with his cre­ativ­ity on the ball and eye for goal, Rogic started as the hold­ing mid­fielder. The Aus­tralian in­ter­na­tion­al­ist per­formed ad­mirably there, but moved up­field as the game pro­gressed.

On the plus side, Jozo Simunovic was fit and took up his place along­side Dedryck Boy­ata in the cen­tre of the de­fence. Efe Am­brose and Tyler Black­ett had per­formed poorly there against Fener­bahce and Molde at home so his avail­abil­ity was wel­come to his man­ager and his side.

Celtic got off to the per­fect start with a goal in the fourth minute which in­volved three of the play­ers drafted into the side due to in­jury and sus­pen- sion. Arm­strong fed Mackay-Steven in the visi­tors’ half and he in turn sup­plied McGre­gor. With the eyes of ev­ery­one in­side the sta­dium upon him, the 22-year-old showed ad­mirable com­po­sure to re­tain pos­ses­sion, cut in­side Mike van der Hoorn and then curl an ex­quis­ite shot be­yond the fully out­stretched Jasper Cil­lessen.

McGre­gor’s strike sent the Celtic supporters in the crowd wild. But it was prac­ti­cally all they had to cheer about, some res­o­lute de­fend­ing aside, in the open­ing 45 min­utes of the match. They posed less of a threat as the game wore on. Ajax equalised with a scrappy goal af­ter 22 min­utes. Craig Gor­don did well to parry a Vik­tor Fishcher shot from an acute an­gle. How­ever, the ball fell to the feet of his op­po­nent who promptly squared it to Arka­diusz Mil­lik and his team mate hooked it into the net.

Celtic ap­peared com­fort­able with the change of sys­tem – they usu­ally play with a 4-2-3-1 set-up – and en­joyed their share of pos­ses­sion in the first half. But they failed to make good use of their pres­sure. Their fi­nal ball of­ten left much to be de­sired.

Leigh Grif­fiths shot straight at Cil­lessen from out­side the box, struck the side net­ting and ha­rassed Jairo Riede­wald and Van der Hoorn when­ever they re­ceived the ball. Could, though, the striker have caused more dam­age if he had been more con­scious of those around him?

In­ci­sive play in the fi­nal third is re­quired to win games at this level in Europe and too much of Celtic’s ef­forts in that area were scrappy. Deila put on Char­lie Mulgrew for Rogic, Scott Al­lan for Gary Mackay-Steven and Iza­guirre for Tier­ney in the sec­ond half. The first two re­place­ments made an im­me­di­ate dif­fer­ence. Al­lan’s per­fectly weighted through ball sent Grif­fiths clear in the 73rd minute. By that stage, the for­ward, who had put in tire­less shift in at­tack by him­self, looked ex­hausted and shot tamely at Cil­lessen.

Fer­nando Rick­sen, the for­mer Rangers player who is suf­fer­ing from mo­tor neu­rone dis­ease, was the guest of Celtic at the game. It was a fine ges­ture and a re­minder that sport­ing ri­val­ries and the out­comes of foot­ball matches are ut­terly triv­ial in com­par­i­son with many things in life.

DE­JEC­TION: Char­lie Mulgrew, Stu­art Arm­strong and Scott Al­lan cut a dis­con­so­late bunch.

FLY­ING START: Cal­lum McGre­gor sent Celtic into an early lead but it was to prove a false dawn.

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