Celts suffer hammer blow to European hopes
UEFA Champions League
Celtic Park, Glasgow
Wednesday 19th October 2016
Celtic – 0
Borussia Mönchengladbach – 2 (Stindl 57, Hahn 77)
In a game that was deemed as a must win for Celtic if they were to have any realistic chance of qualifying for European competition beyond Christmas, they were dealt a hammer blow in what was a classy and efficient performance by their German opposition. Inspired by playmaker Lars Stindl, Die Fohlen very much stamped their authority on the game from an early stage and were comfortable in their 0-2 victory. The result means that Celtic need to overcome a two-point deficit against the Germans and a loss in the reverse fixture in just under a fortnight would all but end Celtic’s chances of qualifying for the Europa League last 32 after the New Year.
The German outfit were under no illusions as to the difficulty of the task they would face in Glasgow on Wednesday night, where Celtic had put high flying Manchester City to the sword in a six-goal thriller three weeks previously. Andre Schubert had spoken prior to the game about how his players would need to show a ‘monster’ mentality if they wanted to achieve a positive result against Celtic, particularly as they were missing five key players from their squad through injury. If it was a monster mentality that he sought from his players, then he received a reaction resembling that of Frankenstein. While several top European teams have crumbled before at Celtic Park, ‘Gladbach remained resolute throughout, while expressing the qualities that earned them a top four finish in the German Bundesliga last season.
Celtic had two opportunities within the opening few moments of the game, the first coming inside two minutes when Moussa Dembélé spotted the diagonal run of Englishman Scott Sinclair, whose cross was eventually well claimed by Swiss goalkeeper Yann Sommer. Less than a minute later, Sommer was called into action once more when Celtic’s Aussie midfielder Tom Rogic attempted to slip Dembélé through on goal. The Swiss keeper was alert to the danger however and managed to intervene before the Frenchman could get there. The early signals were of a green and white onslaught on the ‘Gladbach goal. However, almost immediately afterwards the Celtic defence were caught unalert when André Hahn was played through on goal after some clever exchanges by Mönchengladbach in the middle of the park. The frontman took one touch too many and Kolo Toure managed to recover and block the effort.
Unlike three weeks previous against Manchester City, Celtic were unable to snatch an early goal and take a foothold on the game while Mönchengladbach grew in confidence and began to gain a firm grip on the proceedings. Celtic, who have been renowned this season for their aggression and intensity when pressing their opposition, found themselves pegged back deep in their own half at various stages during the first forty five minutes, mainly due to the comfort at which the Germans were keeping the ball. When 'Gladbach attacked, they did so with pace and purpose and on sixteen minutes they had the Celtic defence stretched with a quick break down Celtic’s left hand side. The ball was switched to the opposite side, causing space to open up for their right winger Traore to have an attempt at goal from eighteen yards, after he had made an intelligent run inside. Gordon parried the initial shot but did well to be alert and to pounce on the ball and prevent it from breaking to any incoming attackers. The Scotsman was called into action once more on the twenty-six minute mark when he had to deny Hofmann from opening the scoring who had lost Erik Sviatchenko and found enough space to pull the trigger inside the eighteen yard box.
Celtic were unable to play with the same purpose and imagination that they had showed against City, much to the credit of the Germans and the level of performance they showed on the night. However, Celtic did come very close to sucker punching the Germans just before the break when Tom Rogic, Celtic’s main instigator in attack on the night, carved their defence open with a beautifully weighted pass which found Scott Sinclair in on goal. The Englishman seemed to underestimate the amount of time he had on the ball and opted to hit it first time with his weaker left foot. Just as the Englishman made a connection with the ball, it took a slight bobble on the Celtic Park turf and the result was a miscued effort which failed to test Sommer, much to the relief of Borussia Mönchengladbach.
Whatever Brendan Rodgers said during his half time team talk sparked a reaction, as Celtic re-entered with an added aggression to their game and began to press higher up the park, forcing the Germans into making a couple of early mistakes and rash clearances. Despite this, Celtic found themselves a goal behind twelve minutes into the second half. Lars Stindl had been a thorn in the side of Celtic’s midfield all night and it was he who broke the deadlock in the fifty seventh minute. The German midfielder played a pass into the path of Hahn, who seemed to be chasing a lost cause with Celtic’s Kolo Toure shepherding the ball to safety. However the Ivorian seemed to dwell on the ball a moment too long and invited the German striker to challenge him and keep the ball in play, reversing back into the Celtic penalty area. Stindl was the first one alive to the loose ball and managed to steer it powerfully between Craig Gordon’s legs to make it 0-1. Celtic now faced an enormous task if they were to retrieve the game.
Celtic did react positively and stepped up their pursuit of a much-needed equaliser. They came close when a well driven Rogic corner kick eventually found its way to the feet of Erik Sviatchenko, however his shot was deflected just over the crossbar by a German defender. Mönchengladbach appeared to be happy to sit back on their one goal lead, allowing Celtic to retain the ball in their own half, once they weren’t putting the German net under any serious pressure. Despite this the Germans doubled their lead in the seventy seventh minute, with Toure once again making a costly error. The 35 year old, who has been a rock in the heart of the Celtic defence since signing as a free agent during the summer, appeared to be in control, however once again was too casual in his approach and Stindl was showed alertness to the situation, duly robbing him of possession and allowing his team-mate Hahn a clear pathway to the Celtic goal. The striker still had a bit to do, but managed to avoid the last ditch tackles of Mikael Lustig and Kolo Toure and poke the ball past a helpless Craig Gordon.
The second goal was undoubtedly the final nail in the Celtic coffin. The final thirteen minutes were simply about remaining professional for Borussia Mönchengladbach, who were satisfied to see the game peter out. Celtic pressed on in search of a consolation, but there was an added spring in the step of the ’Gladbach players, who felt that they had done enough to achieve their first away victory in the competition for thirty nine years. Patrick Roberts had been introduced to the game to try and salvage something for the Hoops, and looked lively, taking their defence on and committing defenders in a way that earned him so many admirers during the tail end of last season. It was encouraging from the English winger who has struggled to regain his place in the team in recent weeks to due to the form of James Forrest. By the final few minutes, Celtic seemed to run out of ideas and Mönchengladbach ran out comfortable 0-2 winners in what was a crucial victory for their own European aspirations.
Despite the natural disappointment after a European home defeat and the increased magnitude of the task Celtic now face in qualifying for European football after Christmas, it is not all doom and gloom for Brendan Rodgers’ side. His squad can take solace in the fact that they faced a quality side in Schubert’s men and were only undone by two individual errors which were remarkably out of character. It was only Celtic’s first defeat at home this season in any competition, and was in fact the first defeat at Celtic Park in a competitive game since December 2015.
Celtic face Mönchengladbach again in less than two weeks time at Stadion im Borussia-Park and a defeat will surely end any hopes of European progression. The German side will feel as though they are now in the driving seat to claim at least third spot in the group, aided by the fact Celtic historically struggle away from home in the Champions League. A point in Germany would keep Celtic’s European dream alive, with only the small task of facing Luis Enrique’s Barcelona and a trip down to Manchester to follow. For now though, all eyes are on Hampden as Celtic face Glasgow rivals Rangers on Sunday in the Scottish Betfred League Cup Semi Final, hoping to avoid a European hangover while replicating the 5-1 demolition when the two sides met for the first time in a league encounter in September.