Sport Soccer

Thursday 23 January 2020

Lennon optimistic despite heavy defeat

Braga 3
Celtic 0

Ben Rumsby

Celtic are on the brink of crashing out of this season's Champions League after gifting Braga a three-goal cushion in last night's third qualifying round first leg.

A controversial first-half penalty from Alan -- awarded after Ki Sung-Yeung was adjudged to have handled -- a debut goal from Uwa Elderson Echiejile, and a stunning free-kick from substitute Matheus ensured the Hoops' miserable European away record continued under Neil Lennon.

The rookie manager, however, was defiant after the defeat and also insisted that the absent Aiden McGeady could be part of turning around the tie next week. The winger's omission fuelled speculation his Parkhead career was at an end but Lennon revealed the 24-year-old had been left out after a back problem flared up and not because he was on the brink of being sold.

"Some people may think the tie is over; we don't," said Lennon. "We've got a good record at home, we've been in this position before and we'll just have to go and be at our very best next week.

On McGeady's absence, Lennon denied knowledge of any developments on a move, adding: "He was complaining of a chronic back injury last night. Having spoken to the medical team, with the lack of training and the lack of game time he's had, I thought it best not to risk him. Hopefully, we'll have him for the second leg."

Such hope, however, seems remote after last night as Celtic failed to muster a single shot on target in sweltering conditions at the AXA Stadium, with their opponents comfortably holding sway in what was both sides' first competitive match of the season.

The home side were on top throughout the opening period and after Alan's 26th minute penalty, Salino could have immediately made it 2-0, but he scuffed his finish wide on the turn.

The signs were not good at the start of the second half when Elderson got in behind new boy Cha Du-Ri all too easily but his cross was too close to goalkeeper Zaluska. The Celtic defence then dawdled as Cesar tried to force his way into the box, a gaggle of players doing just enough to stifle his finish.

Glenn Loovens became the latest Hoops defender to be booked after fouling Lima as the visitors' problems continued beyond the hour mark. None of the new faces were making an impact as Celtic struggled to string more than a handful of passes together. Lima was eventually taken out of the firing line, with Matheus coming on up front.

Moises had time to flash a header wide before Lennon responded by introducing new boy Daryl Murphy for Shaun Maloney.

But there was no legislating for the appalling defending that gifted Braga their second goal 15 minutes from time, Matheus' corner missed by a host of players before Elderson bundled the ball home. Matheus then compounded Celtic's misery when he hit a superb third goal in the 89th minute.

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