With Tom Rogic and Carl Starfelt not quite ready to return Celtic’s bench last night away to Bayer Leverkusen in the Europa League was as follows: Bain, Oluwayemi, Scales, Ajeti, Abada, Soro, McCarthy, Johnston, Urhoghide, Shaw, Murray, Montgomery.
Ange Postecoglou, perhaps with a thought or two towards the weekend encounter with Aberdeen and the incredibly hectic fixture list that follows in December decided to repeat what he’d done in the later stages of the League Cup win over St Johnstone on Saturday by replacing his front three.
Crucially he’s also had to substitute Nir Bitton, who after a hesitant start to the match was having a superb game in his favoured number 6 role, protecting the back four as Celtic looked to see out another win, one which would have given us a great chance of qualifying for the knock-out rounds.
Off went the dazed Bitton after his head-knock to be replaced by James McCarthy, and Kyogo, Jota and Forrest were substituted with Ajeti, Johnston and Abada replacing them.
The problem for Ange is that Bayer Leverkusen are no St Johnstone and the Bundesliga side capitalised on the weakening of the Celtic side to grab the two late goals that broke Celtic hearts and saw us drop into the Conference League where the Final is in Tirana, where the Albanian President an avid reader of The Celtic Star – Morning Mr President!) is sure to put on a show if the Bhoys are in town!
So if the venue for the Conference League final is one of the positives from last night then other is that there can be no question that Ange needs the backing from the Celtic Board in January and if there is any pushback from the boardroom on Ange’s shopping plans then he only has to remind them about his options at Europa League level never might Champions League standard last night. Simply not good enough.
The point was repeatedly made by the former Celtic Players doing punditry duties across the media last night, either on BT Sports or BBC Sportsound, where there would have been considerable grinning from their in-house hacks.
“It’s clear to everyone – including the fans and surely the manager and his staff – but his philosophy isn’t going to change,” former Celtic goalkeeper Pat Bonner told the BBC radio programme as he reflected on Ange’s tactical plan to take the game to Leverkusen, without necessarily having the tools to carry out the job.
“Even when he changed his two wide guys and a striker he puts players on in those positions thinking they might do something from an attacking point of view.
“I don’t know if he took them off because they were tired because they were still doing their job defensively so he must have thought they could get another goal.
“But once Celtic had to make those changes – taking off the two wide guys – they didn’t look as comfortable. Kyogo almost instigated the press at times and they just looked a bit more insecure when he went off and Nir Bitton going off with a head injury is another critical player out of the team in that holding defensive role.
“James McCarthy maybe found it a wee bit more difficult to get into the game late on and when you look and analyse the goals. At Leverkusen’s third goal Florian Wirtz should never have been allowed the space and time to almost stand on the ball and pick his pass – he should have been closed down.
“When you’re 2-1 up with eight minutes left you’ve got to try and see it out. It’s hugely disappointing. Joe Hart had an incredible double save and the performance was very good and defensively up to a point.”
We’ll look at what the other Celtic pundits had to say next, before that here’s Ange after the game talking to Celtic TV…