End of the road for blundering Celtic
Celtic 1-2 Ajax
Published 27/11/2015 | 02:30
Celtic must take whatever consolation the domestic scene offers them for the rest of the season.
Their ill-starred Europa League campaign came to an end with the concession of two goals at home for the fourth European tie in succession, this time netted for Ajax by Arjadiusz Milik and substitute Vaclav Cerny.
There was little consolation in the knowledge that Fenerbahce's 2-0 win over already-qualified Molde in Norway had rendered Celtic's latest European trauma under Ronny Deila as academic.
Badly depleted by the loss of three of his holding midfielders - the injured Scott Brown and the suspended Nir Bitton and Stefan Johansen - Deila summoned Callum McGregor to play behind Leigh Griffiths in what was deemed to be a 4-1-2-3 formation, with Tom Rogic in the insurance position in front of the defence.
For a brief spell it seemed that forced withdrawals were to be the mother of invention.
In Celtic's first upfield break, Rogic prompted Gary Mackay-Steven for a threaded pass to find McGregor, who turned Mike van der Hoorn neatly before curling his shot from 20 yards between Jasper Cillessen and his left-hand post.
McGregor's contribution arrived all of three minutes into what was only his second start of the season.
It was also the seventh of Celtic's Europa League goals and the only one which had neither been scored by Kris Commons - another injury casualty - nor been from one of his assists.
Scoring goals in Europe has not, of course, been Celtic's difficulty and, far from being cowed by this early setback, Ajax soon dominated possession in the central areas.
Ajax posted a warning when a neat thrust through the heart of the Celtic back line saw Viktor Fischer ram a shot high past Craig Gordon from a cutback by Amin Younes, who was judged to be offside, though the TV replays suggested otherwise.
Sheer negligence played a part in the next scare. As Nemanja Gudelj stood over a free-kick 22 yards out from goal, Lasse Schone ran from behind him past the edge of the Celtic wall and into space followed, needless to say, by the ball. Schone swivelled only to shoot straight at Gordon.
The incident was typical of the carelessness which had sabotaged Celtic's best efforts throughout this Europa League campaign.
Ajax forced the equaliser a minute later. Fischer took advantage of a deflected strike from Schone which landed in his path inside the box and, although Gordon beat away his close-range strike, he headed the rebound back across goal where Polish striker Milik knocked it over the line.
With time almost up, Ajax broke and Cerny, on for Fischer, drove home the winner. (© Daily Telegraph, London)