Celtic disappointingly exited the Europa League tonight after throwing away a lead they had worked so hard to build inside a disastrous final ten minutes in Germany.
Bayer Leverkusen took the lead at the BayArena 16 minutes in to the contest when midfielder Robert Andrich, who had a running battle with Anthony Ralston all evening, lost the Celtic right back and met an in swinging corner with a bullet header leaving Joe Hart with no chance in the Celtic goal.
On the 40th minute Celtic were handed a way back into the tie when Leverkusen’s Finnish goalkeeper Lukas Hradecky wiped Kyogo Furuhashi out with a ‘Superman’ punch in the box. It was a stonewall penalty and after viewing the incident again on the pitchside monitor, the referee agreed. Josip Juranovic, back on penalty duty, maintained his 100% record from the spot in a Celtic shirt by netting an audacious Peneka penalty which found the net via the inside of the crossbar.
Celtic fans in the stadium were then left in wonderland 10 minutes into the second half when Jota netted a superb curling effort after a fantastic breakaway from the visitors. At this point I said to a friend that we will now see if we have learned our lesson from squandering leads in previous away matches in Europe. The answer looked for a while like we had, but ultimately it was glaringly obvious that we hadn’t.
Soft goals in the last 10 minutes from Robert Andrich and Moussa Diaby meant all Celtic’s hard work had been undone. It was bitterly disappointing to throw away a chance to claim a historic away win in Germany and when Andrich scored his second you did feel that chance may have gone.
However, what really frustrated me was the fact that we couldn’t even hold on to claim a vital point which would have set up an electric battle against Real Betis in the final group game at Celtic Park and gave us a chance of progressing in the competition.
Since Ange took over in the summer we have had six away games in Europe. In four of them against Midtjylland, AZ Alkmaar, Real Betis and now Bayer Leverkusen we have taken the lead in the match only to end up being defeated in them all although obviously the Midtjylland one was in extra time. That’s a very worrying record and something that we will have to take a serious look at and investigate why this is happening repeatedly. We then need to learn from our mistakes going forward.
Personally I felt the main factor that condemned us to defeat tonight was when we made so many substitutions inside a four minute spell. Bitton for McCarthy was because of injury but replacing the 3 up top, who were causing Leverkusen so much problems, pretty much in one foul swoop was a huge error for me. As a team we seemed to lose all momentum and fluidity. John Hartson in commentary even mentioned how difficult it is to come on to such a high tempo game and acclimatise quickly.
It was from that point onwards that Celtic started to look really disjointed and were getting pinned further and further back. Although the subs were giving their all you could clearly notice they were struggling with the pace of the game.
Regarding comments from Davie Provan on Go Radio last night, i stated in an earlier article that Celtic fans aren’t giving Ange Postecoglou an easy ride and if they felt the Celtic manager made mistakes they would call it out and that’s what I’m going to do here. Making so many substitutions at once was an error. It changed the game and put us at a disadvantage.
Let’s hope going forward the management team will look at some of the mistakes that have repeatedly happened in Europe this season, especially away from home, and put plans in place to rectify them. We have proved we are more than capable of taking on big teams on the continent and going toe to toe with them. We just need to become a lot more streetwise and learn how to make all our hard work count.
🎙️ "We didn't finish the game off in the way that we could have. But credit to the players, Leverkusen are a fantastic team and we came to their backyard and gave them a game."
— Celtic Football Club (@CelticFC) November 25, 2021