Forster says rivals a cut above Hoops
Keeper admits 'quality' of Milan too much for Celtic but insists team can take 'positives' from Euro effort
FRASER FORSTER believes that Celtic's Champions League failure is down to the small margins involved in the game's toughest competition.
A year ago, with Gary Hooper and Victor Wanyama in the squad, the Hoops were on the brink of qualification thanks to the heroics of Forster and a wonder goal from Tony Watt that defeated Barcelona.
Last night's demoralising 3-0 defeat by AC Milan laid bare the failings of the current squad, with a number of statistics thrown up as the Italian side won their first game in eight attempts.
Without the consolation of a Europa League place, Celtic face a long, cold domestic winter, but while the inquests continue, Forster believes that it's not all doom and gloom.
"We were playing against a top quality team full of fantastic individuals and the moments of quality they had took the game away from us," the England keeper claimed.
"They scored goals at important times. I thought we were a bit unlucky when you look at the game, we had chances, but it was not to be.
"It is disappointing. The worst-case scenario was that we would stay in Europe and play in the Europa League, but Ajax beat Barcelona. That was a fantastic result for them."
One win from five matches and just two goals scored suggests that qualifying for the Champions League is as good as Celtic can hope for.
A failure to convert chances coupled with some slapstick defending at set pieces contributed to last night's defeat that numbed the usually buoyant Hoops' support.
Admitting that qualification may be the height of Celtic's ambitions Forster added: "We were proud to get to the group stage and have loved every minute of being in the Champions League. I think the lads can be proud of what they have done. We have still got one game against Barcelona we can go on and enjoy.
"It is important we now focus on the league. If we do well and win it again we can have another pop at the Champions League next year.
"There are plenty of positives to take from the campaign. The players and the manager can be delighted with what they have achieved.
"I think the manager also deserves a lot of credit for all that he has done for us. I don't think he will have any difficulty motivating us. The league is the most important thing."
Manager Neil Lennon acknowledged a lack of firepower finally caught up with his Celtic side.
Defender Virgil van Dijk missed a sitter at the start of the second half when he blasted a shot straight at Milan goalkeeper Christian Abbiati – a minute before Rossoneri defender Cristian Zapata made it 2-0 from close range before Mario Balotelli added a third.
Lennon said: "Tonight was symptomatic of the campaign. We missed good chances and I was really disappointed in the two goals we lost from corners because we take a lot of pride in that.
"The Virgil chance was a great chance, and at 1-1 the game could have gone either way. And then we go and concede again from a corner. That was the most disappointing aspect, as was the opportunities we have missed.
"I didn't think we were outplayed or there were waves after waves of attack.
"But big moments change the psychology of the game. Milan took their chances when they came along, albeit we contributed to our own downfall.
"When our opportunities arose, Beram Kayal, Charlie Mulgrew, Van Dijk, James Forrest, snatched at them – that was the difference in the game."
Asked if he felt a better quality of player was needed for the Champions League, the Northern Irishman replied: "I think that has been apparent over the course of the campaign.
"Realistically, getting into the Champions League was fantastic for us.
"When the draw was made, we knew how difficult it was going to be, but we have competed – and we competed again tonight. But just that quality at the top end of the pitch has caught up with us.
"Some of the players have covered themselves in glory, but it is mainly the defensive end of the pitch we are talking about."