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  • Narrow defeat ends Celtic's Champions League dream

    Narrow defeat ends Celtic's Champions League dream

    By: Mark Henderson on 26 Aug, 2014 21:54

  • UEFA Champions League play-off second-leg
    Celtic Park, Glasgow
    Tuesday, August 26, 2014

    CELTIC...0

    NK MARIBOR...1
    (Tavares 75)

    CELTIC’S UEFA Champions League dream is over for this season after a narrow 1-0 reversal to NK Maribor in Paradise consigned them to a 2-1 aggregate defeat in the play-off round.

    Striker Tavares struck the only goal for the visitors 15 minutes from time, sending a spinning shot beyond Craig Gordon after the Hoops failed to clear a cross from the left.

    The Scottish champions had earlier hit the bar through Callum McGregor but it was to be a frustrating evening for them as their desperate late attacks proved in vain.

    Celtic will now enter the Europa League group stages, with the draw taking place on Friday.  

    Ronny Deila largely kept faith with the same team that drew 1-1 away to NK Maribor, making just the one change, with Efe Ambrose coming into the side at the expense of Jason Denayer. The young Belgian defender was named among the substitutes.

    Paradise was packed-out for the occasion and there was a deafening roar at the start as the teams entered the pitch and lined up for the familiar UEFA Champions League music.

    And the volume was raised even higher in the opening minutes as the hosts made a positive start, coming within inches of taking the lead in the fourth minute.

    Jo Inge Berget, such an effective attacking presence in the first leg, made progress down the left and reached the byline. He dug out a low cross which was almost turned into his own net by Marko Suler.

    Fresh from his first Scotland call-up, McGregor was brimming with confidence and heavily involved in the Hoops’ early attacking forays.

    And after one incisive burst inside from the right, the 21-year-old tried his luck from distance but Aleksander Rajcevic was able to make the block.

    As the pressure continued on the visitors’ goal, Berget was felled in the box by Petar Stojanovic but referee Viktor Kassai was unmoved.

    Having absorbed the initial Celtic onslaught, Ante Simundza’s side began to grow into the contest and enjoy greater spells of possession.

    The dangerous Agim Ibraimi was first to threaten with a vicious shot from 30 yards that whistled narrowly wide. Moments later, Tavares burst clear in the box but the striker was denied by a brilliant block from Ambrose.

    The Nigerian defender made another important intervention to thwart Ibraimi after the Slovenian side broke quickly down the left.

    McGregor was looking the most capable source of invention for the home side and, after a neat piece of footwork, he crossed towards Berget and earned a corner. From the resultant set-piece, Virgil van Dijk headed inches beyond the far post.

    But the tension was growing among the home support as Gordon was forced into a diving save to push Mitja Viler’s swerving shot to safety. The rebound dropped for Tavares but he couldn’t react quickly enough to profit.

    Urged on by Ronny Deila on the touchline and the Hoops faithful, the Scottish champions attempted to rally as half-time approached but they couldn’t fashion any meaningful opportunities as the Maribor backline held firm, leaving the match in the balance at the interval,

    Seeking further creative spark from his side, the manager introduced Kris Commons for the restart in place of Beram Kayal.

    And the 30-year-old was soon causing the visitors a new headache with his movement and link-up play in the final third. As he tried to combine with Stokes, Rajcevic hauled him back. Remarkably, the referee failed to penalise the defender and Commons saw yellow for his protests.

    But he was soon joined in the book by Suler and Rajcevic as Celtic forced their opponents into some desperate defending.

    The tide was turning back in Celtic’s favour – Ambrose steered Stokes’ free-kick wide and after another set-piece from the Irishman was flicked on, van Dijk was agonisingly close to getting his boot to the ball.

    In the 56th minute, the woodwork came to Maribor’s rescue as Stokes’ cutback from the left was turned on to the bar from close-range by McGregor.

    There was a real intensity and purpose to Celtic’s play now as they maintained the offensive, with Commons’ ferocious drive fizzing over.

    But a goal remained elusive and Maribor capitalised by taking the lead at the other end. The Hoops failed to deal with a cross from the left and Tavares knocked in the loose ball.

    That forced the Hoops to commit more men forward, leaving them exposed at the back and Gordon had to make a super stop from Jean-Philippe Mendy, while Tavares blazed over.

    But the home side couldn’t conjure up a late leveller at the other end as Ambrose headed wide from Stokes’ free-kick and van Dijk saw a volley saved by Handanovic deep into stoppage time as the night ended in disappointment.

    CELTIC (4-3-3) Gordon; Ambrose, Lustig (Boerrigter 72), van Dijk, Izaguirre; Kayal (Commons 46) Mulgrew, Johansen; McGregor, Stokes, Berget (Matthews 65)
    Not Used: Zaluska, Denayer, Bitton, Griffiths

    NK MARIBOR (4-4-2) Handanovic; Stojanovic, Rajcevic, Suler, Viler; Vrsic (Bohar 82) Filipovic, Mertelj, Ibrami; Tavares, Mendy (Dervisevic 90+2)
    Not Used: Cotman, Mejac, Arghus, Sallalich, , Zahovic

    Website Man of the Match: Callum McGregor

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