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  • Celts battle for Europa League point in Amsterdam

    Celts battle for Europa League point in Amsterdam

    By: Martin Dalziel in Amsterdam on 17 Sep, 2015 20:09

  • UEFA Europa League group stages
    Amsterdam ArenA, Amsterdam, Netherlands
    Thursday, September 17, 2015

    AJAX...2
    (Fischer 25, Schone 84)

    CELTIC...2
    (Bitton 8, Lustig 42)

    CELTIC were forced to settle for a point in the Amsterdam ArenA in their UEFA Europa League group stages opener after a late Ajax free-kick evaded the Hoops defence to snatch a dramatic draw for the home side.

    The Bhoys had opened the scoring early in the first-half through Nir Bitton’s pinpoint strike but were pegged back on 25 minutes through Victor Fischer’s accurate shot from 20 yards.

    Ronny Deila’s team deservedly got back in front before the interval, however, when Mikael Lustig powered a header in at the back post but a late sending off for Emilio Izaguirre for a second bookable offence changed the complexion of the game and allowed Ajax to pile on the pressure.

    The Hoops eventually succumbed to the waves of attack just six minutes from the end in frustrating fashion when a free-kick from second-half substitute Lasse Schone somehow got past everyone in the box and nestled in the back of the net.

    It was a sucker punch for the Scottish champions, who had twice led in their Group A opener, but the result still got their first point on the board.

    Celtic made four changes from the team that lost to Aberdeen at the weekend and it was one of those fresh faces, Kris Commons, who helped break the deadlock inside 10 minutes.

    The playmaker gathered a pass from Bitton, put his head down and drove towards the box where the Ajax backline came out to meet him but his quick feet worked space to play in a wonderful through ball for Bitton in the box, allowing the Israeli midfielder to pick his spot and send an unstoppable shot beyond Jasper Cillessen.

    It was the perfect start for the Bhoys and the goal silenced the home crowd but the Celts failed to properly build on the early lead and instead dropped off, allowing Ajax time on the ball.

    The hosts were comfortable in possession after conceding and eventually got back into the match on 25 minutes after the lively Amin Younes cut inside from the left flank and played the ball in to Davy Klaassen’s feet on the edge of the area. The attacker carried on the attack with a cute flick to Victor Fischer 20 yards out where the home side’s star man sent an accurate curling shot into the far corner.

    Younes in particular proved himself to be a persistent menace to the Hoops defence with his jinking runs from the left flank providing most of the creativity for Frank de Boer’s side.

    However, chances were at a premium for the Dutch team and it was Celtic who went closest at the other end to going back in front through Leigh Griffiths’ snap shot after a cut-back from Forrest.

    The Hoops then went one better and got the goal their reinvigorated play deserved when Lustig out-jumped his marker at a Commons corner to direct a header in between Cillessen’s legs at the back post to put the Bhoys back in front just before the break. It was a sucker punch for de Boer’s side but well-deserved on the basis of play before half-time.

    Ajax started the second-half enthusiastically and dominated the ball for the opening five minutes. The home team looked to be one pass away from creating a clear-cut opportunity but a combination of Celtic defending and poor touches from the home team’s attackers limited their chances.

    The Hoops eventually found their feet to stop the relentless waves of red and white attacks and applied some of their own pressure with a succession of corners. Lustig went closest with another header but couldn’t put his effort on target.

    Griffiths also rippled the side netting as the Scottish champions bid to add to their lead, provoking a reshuffle from de Boer, who switched playmaker Younes and midfielder Daley Sinkgraven with Thulani Serero and striker Arkadiusz Milik for a more direct approach.

    The shift didn’t challenge Celtic greatly but their night was turned on its head when Emilio Izaguirre was shown a second yellow card for a clumsy challenge on Nemanja Gudelj. The Honduran had been booked earlier and was punished again for the tackle on 74 minutes which put the Hoops down to 10 men.

    Ajax instantly brought on Schone for Fischer as the Bhoys fell back into two banks of four with Tyler Blackett replacing James Forrest to plug the gap in defence.

    The man advantage gave the home side time to pick their pass as they tried to pry the Hoops defence open but the Celtic defence held firm, pushing the home side wide, but it was from there that they eventually drew level after Commons was penalised for a hand ball on the left flank.

    Substitute Schone took the set-piece with his right and his curling effort was missed by everyone in the box to find its way into the net with just six minutes left on the clock.

    The lateness of the strike and Celtic’s player deficit made it near impossible for the Bhoys to create anything in reply before full-time and Ajax could have stolen the victory with a late Milik header but the Celts held on for the point, although it could have been so much more.

    CELTIC (4-3-2-1) Gordon; Lustig (Ambrose 67), Boyata, Simunovic, Izaguirre; Brown, Johansen, Bitton; Forrest (Blackett 75), Commons (Janko 83); Griffiths.
    Not used: Bailly, Ciftci, Mackay-Steven, Rogic

    AJAX (4-3-3) Cillessen; Tete, Veltman, Riedewald, Dijks; Gudelj, Fischer (Schone 75), Sinkgraven (Serero 62); El Ghazi, Klaassen, Younes (Milik 62)
    Not used: Boer, van Rhijn, van der Hoorn, Viergever

    Website man of the match: Nir Bitton

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