Wednesday 23 January 2019

Rodgers laments Bhoys' lack of courage in Zenit defeat

Provocative methods unlikely to end problems, writes Miguel Delaney

Zenit’s Branislav Ivanovic rises highest to put his team into the lead. Photo: AP
Zenit’s Branislav Ivanovic rises highest to put his team into the lead. Photo: AP

Miguel Delaney

Brendan Rodgers claimed Celtic needed more courage against Zenit St Petersburg after the Hoops crashed out of the Europa League following their 3-1 aggregate defeat.

The one-goal lead from the first leg of the last-32 clash was wiped out before half an hour had been played as defender Branislav Ivanovic put Zenit in front with a header. Daler Kuzyayev fired in a long-range drive in the 27th minute to turn the tie in the hosts' favour.

A goal was still all Celtic needed to go through but in the 61st minute striker Aleksandr Kokorin made it 3-0 on the night to end the Scottish champions' hopes of reaching the last 16.

Manager Rodgers said: "Defensively we lacked aggression, particularly in the first half. We didn't close the space quick enough. We talk about defending forward and we just didn't defend forward well enough. We conceded poor goals from that.

Blocked "The corner is one that can happen, we were blocked off, they worked it well and found the space. Branislav is outstanding in the air.

"The second goal, we didn't engage quick enough from the throw-in. We're too deep and have to press the guy who was shooting.

Celtic’s Scott Brown in action with Zenit St. Petersburg's Branislav Ivanovic. Photo: Reuters
Celtic’s Scott Brown in action with Zenit St. Petersburg's Branislav Ivanovic. Photo: Reuters

"At 2-0 we still have an opportunity in the game. But everything was too sideways and backwards and that's about bravery and having that courage to play. With so many young players in the team, you see the contrast from last week.

"We started the second half OK but, again, we concede possession too cheaply and they work the ball round for a cross. We should never concede that type of goal, the third goal. We were much better than them in the first game. If we played with a little bit more courage and belief tonight, we could maybe have got a result."

Zenit boss Roberto Mancini claimed his side earned their place in today's draw. The Italian said: "We deserved to win. We played a very good game. Celtic are a strong team but we played very, very well.

"Celtic's tempo in Glasgow was very difficult for us. Tonight we scored three goals, had other chances and for 75 minutes didn't concede any chances to Celtic."

Zenit St. Petersburg coach Roberto Mancini. Photo: Reuters
Zenit St. Petersburg coach Roberto Mancini. Photo: Reuters

An expensively-assembled Zenit side had looked rusty in Glasgow in their first competitive game in two months due to Russia's winter break.

However, despite looking no better than decent they were fit enough and good enough to recover the tie, although they were given some help by the visitors.

The stadium's roof was closed which was good news for the players and 50,492 supporters, including several hundred in green and white, in light of the sub-zero temperatures outside.

Celtic were unchanged from the first leg while Zenit brought back former Chelsea defender Ivanovic and midfielder Matias Kranevitter.

The Scottish champions looked at ease from kick-off in a subdued atmosphere only to be stunned by the loss of the early goal.

De Vries made a decent save turning a long-distance drive from Leandro Paredes past the post for a corner but when the Argentinean delivered his set-piece into the box, Ivanovic rose to bullet in his header with centre-backs Jozo Simunovic and Kristoffer Ajer unable to get in a real challenge.

Zenit's second goal also appeared avoidable as Kuzyaev, after taking an Anton Zabolotny pass, fired past De Vries from 25 yards with the Dutchman appearing to misjudge the flight of the ball.

Tom Rogic replaced Eboue Kouassi for the start of the second half, the Australia midfielder sending a shot over the bar within a minute of the restart.

However, there was more woe for the Hoops when, with the Parkhead defence in disarray again, Kokorin got in front of right-back Mikael Lustig and bundled in number three, Ivanovic supplying the cross.

Celtic tried to fight back but they looked all out of hope. Zenit goalkeeper Andrei Lunev saved an Olivier Ntcham shot and there was plenty of Celtic hustle and bustle in the final stages but there was no way back from a night in Russia which ended with plenty of regret.

"Tonight I thought, in particular in the first half, we weren't aggressive enough and a little bit passive," added Rodgers.

Irish Independent

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