Celtic pegged back three times by Manchester City but brave Bhoys end Pep's 100pc record
It was supposed to be a mis-match of epic proportions in which Manchester City would stroll to an eleventh successive victory under Pep Guardiola and inflict further Champions League humiliation on Celtic.
But 50 years to the day the since Jock Stein’s Lisbon Lions began their journey to the 1967 European Cup, Brendan Rodgers’ Class of 2016 evoked the spirit of their glorious predecessors to produce a heroic performance which landed the first blow on City’s sheen of invincibility.
A seismic 90 minutes, played in front of an awe-inspiring crowd, ended with the points shared in Group with a 3-3 draw.
But what a draw. What a show of defiance from Celtic, two weeks after their 7-0 mauling at the hands of Barcelona. And what a display of fight and determination from City, who equalised three times to deny Celtic a famous victory.
Moussa Dembele, signed for a £300,000 compensation fee from Fulham in the summer, was Celtic’s two-goal hero, but Scott Brown, Scott Sinclair, Kolo Toure, Tom Rogic Kieran Tierney and the rest were immense for the hosts on a night when pride was restored for the Scottish champions.
Celtic have claimed some mighty scalps in the East End of Glasgow in the Champions League in recent seasons, with Manchester United, AC Milan and Barcelona all being overcome by a combination of the green-and-white shirts on the pitch and the raucous backing from the stands.
It has perhaps become something of a cliché, that Celtic Park is a unique venue under the lights on a European night, but in an era when finances have left Celtic unable to match the feats of the Lisbon Lions – who set off on their European Cup winning campaign with 2-0 home win against FC Zurich exactly 50 years ago to the day – the Scottish champions must utilise every tool at their disposal to defeat more powerful opponents.
And the old stadium rocked and shook with noise from before kick-off as the home supporters did their bit to unsettle and unnerve Guardiola’s players.
With the rain swirling around the stadium and the decibels shooting up the scale, City, so imperious so far this season, allowed the atmosphere to get into their heads.
And Celtic’s players, defending a proud unbeaten record on home turf in 2016, matched the intensity of their supporters by tearing at City from the very first kick.
They were in City’s faces, suffocating the space around the lurid tangerine and lavender shirts, but even Brendan Rodgers could not have wished for a better start than that given by Mousse Dembele’s third minute opener.
Dembele, a hat-trick hero in the Old Firm rout of Rangers earlier this month, sent the stadium wild by diverting James Forrest’s cross past goalkeeper Claudio Bravo as City’s defenders stood and watched.
It was the first time City had fallen behind under Guardiola, with his team taking the lead in each of their ten successive victories so far this season, so this was a new test of his players.
Without the injured Kevin De Bruyne and with John Stones named only as a substitute, City still had experience and quality in every department, but Celtic were unfazed and Bravo was forced into a crucial save to deny former City defender Kolo Toure on six minutes.
The game bounced from end to end and City equalised on 12 minutes when Fernandinho intercepted Aleks Kolarov’s misdirected shot before beating goalkeeper Craig Gordon from ten yards.
Celtic could have folded, but they fought back, urged on by further noise from the stands and youngster Kieran Tierney saw his shot deflected into the net by Sterling on 20 minutes to restore to the home side’s lead.
The goal was made by Tom Rogic, however, with the midfielder cleverly picking out Tierney following a powerful break forward.
City were under the cosh again and Fernandinho, so impressive this season, was making countless mistakes in possession, while Bravo once again looked an accident waiting to happen whenever a back pass headed in his direction.
Celtic’s defensive game was not as impressive as their attacking efforts, though, and City were able to break through too often for a team attempting to hold onto a lead.
And unsurprisingly, City equalised again on 28 minutes when Sterling showed class and composure to beat Gordon after neat build-up play between David Silva and Sergio Aguero.
Celtic’s tenacity in the first-half was such that City only commanded 54 per cent of the possession in the opening 45 minutes – way down on their usual levels of dominance under Guardiola.
But how much would their early exertions affect Celtic’s energy reserves in the second period, when City’s superior quality on the ball would surely turn the screw in the latter stages of the game?
The answer was swift and emphatic, with Dembele putting Celtic ahead for the third time less than sixty seconds into the second-half.
It was typical of this game, an epic encounter between two teams determined to attack regardless of the cost, but Dembele was thankful to Kolarov for the mistake which gifted him his chance.
The Serbian defender made a mess of Tierney’s cross, allowing the ball to drop to the unmarked Dembele who still had plenty to do with his back to goal.
But the former Fulham youngster controlled, turned and lashed a volley past Bravo to send Celtic Park into raptures once again.
City were having to fight for every ball in order to get back into the game, but Guardiola’s players rose to the challenge.
Nolito forced a save from Gordon and Ilkay Gundogan did the same with a dangerous free-kick before Nolito made it 3-3, racing into the penalty area to convert the rebound after Gordon had denied Sergio Aguero.
City fought tooth and nail until the end with Fernando and Gundogan going close to winning it in the final ten minutes.
But Celtic held firm for a point they deserved from an unforgettable game.
Independent News Service