Tale Of Two Halves: Good Result But A Bittersweet Ending

There was a little bit of angst in the lead up to this game. Lille have been in great form and Celtic have had a tough week. The pressure has been piled on Neil Lennon by the media and some supporters, but he hit back in the press conference ahead of this match and showed the passion for which he is famed.

Lennon named a team with just one change from the weekend and maintained the 4-2-3-1 shape. This made a real difference by keeping continuity and playing players in their proper positions in a system that suits them. A good performance was both desired and required ahead of the weekend’s cup semi final, and that’s exactly what we got.

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Celtic started the game very well, Albian Ajeti with a very good opportunity which he squandered. It was Ajeti who capitalised on a loose touch from Lille’s righ back though, and neatly flicked the ball to Elyounoussi. The Norwegian winger drove forward, before curling the ball into the corner of the net on his right foot, from no less than 25 yards. It was an outstanding goal.

It didn’t take too long for Elyounoussi to bag his second of the game when Jeremie Frimpong burst down the wing. Frimpong took his time, drilled a low pass to his teammate and Elyounoussi tucked the ball inside the post with a delightful finish to put the Hoops two up.

Things nearly got even better as Frimpong skinned his marker and chipped an inviting ball to Ajeti, who fouled the centre back when attempting the header.

There was danger before half time as Shane Duffy brought down the striker. The challenge was actually outside the box, but the referee pointed to the spot. Luck was on the Irishman’s side for the first time in a while, as Scott Bain spared his blushes with a fine save, preserving Celtic’s 2-0 advantage going into the break.

Chris Sutton described Celtic’s performance as “box office” in his BT Sport commentary and the Bhoys looked on course for victory.

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The second half started with a very different psychological approach. Celtic seemed to sit deeper and look to hold what they had. That said, Elyounoussi twice had golden opportunities on the break, but chose not to shoot on both occasions.

The first chance saw him on the edge of the box at a similar angle to where he scored his first goal, but, after hesitation, he elected to attempt a reverse pass rather than pulling the trigger. The second opportunity was much more clear cut. He broke free after linking up with Edouard and found himself in yards of space in the centre of goal, just inside the D. Incredibly, Mo paused and tried to dummy a defender who would never have got a block in had he shot, then the chance was gone. He had a great game and scored some lovely goals, but he will probably feel he could have grabbed a hat trick on reflection.

As Celtic struggled to keep Lille at bay, Jeremie Frimpong and Diego Laxalt were absolutely sensation out wide. Laxalt made 13 tackles (most tackles in one match in Europa League history) and Frimpong worked incredibly hard. The pair ran their socks off and offered great options at both ends of the pitch.

Kristoffer Ajer had to be withdrawn in the 53rd minute, his injury rendering him unable to continue and forcing Nir Bitton to take his place. Ajer is a big loss and it is hoped that he will be available Sunday, although the return of Bitton after complications in his battle against Covid-19 was most welcome.

It was disappointing when Lille pulled a goal back on 67 minutes. They had caused Celtic all sorts of problems from set pieces and finally struck a telling blow when a corner was flicked on to the back post area and Celik was left unmarked to convert past Bain from close range.

Less than ten minutes had passed before Lille made it two. On that occassion the French side were allowed to get a cross in from the right wing and, after a scuffed shot, the ball fell to Ikone and made no mistake from 12 yards. He should probably have been closed down quicker by Scott Brown.

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Lennon rang the changes thereafter and Celtic had a couple of late chances that they couldn’t make the most of. Elyounoussi broke free with Laxalt and Frimpong for company in a three against two situation, but the full backs made the same run and the chance went begging. The energetic, pacey Frimpong was then the manufacturer of his own opportunity when he cut inside his man and drove at the defence, but his shot ultimately went over the bar.

2-2 against the French (joint) league leaders is a great result, especially away from home. However, it is somewhat bittersweet as the opportunity was there to win the game when 2-0 up. The shape looks much better, the performance levels were high and Celtic certainly look in a much better place going into Sunday’s semi final at the weekend. Let’s hope this is the chance to kick on.

About Author

Hailing from an Irish background, I grew up on the English south coast with the good fortune to begin watching Celtic during the Martin O'Neill era. I have written four Celtic books since the age of 19: Our Stories & Our Songs: The Celtic Support, Take Me To Your Paradise: A History Of Celtic-Related Incidents & Events, Walfrid & The Bould Bhoys: Celtic's Founding Fathers, First Season & Early Stars, and The Holy Grounds of Glasgow Celtic: A Guide To Celtic Landmarks & Sites Of Interest. These were previously sold in Waterstones and official Celtic FC stores, and are now available on Amazon.

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