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  • Brave Bhoys bow out of Europe

    Brave Bhoys bow out of Europe

    By: Mark Henderson on 26 Nov, 2015 22:10

  • UEFA Europa League
    Celtic Park, Glasgow
    Thursday, November 26, 2015

    CELTIC...1
    (McGregor 3)

    AJAX...2
    (Milik 21, Cerny 88)

    CELTIC’S ambitions of reaching the UEFA Europa League knockout stages came to a cruel end against Ajax tonight in Paradise as a late goal from substitute Vaclav Cerny consigned them to a 2-1 defeat.    

    The Hoops were handed a dream start by Callum McGregor in the third minute when he slotted home from 20 yards.

    Arkadiusz Milik cancelled that out with a close-range finish in the first half, but the Scottish champions were undeterred, playing with purpose, determination and no little flair, and they fashioned a number of decent chances to restore their lead.

    McGregor struck the bar and Griffiths was denied by Jasper Cillessen when through on goal as Ronny Deila’s side finished strongly.  

    But they were caught on the counter when pushing for a winner by Cerny to put an end to their European hopes for the current campaign.

    McGregor made his start since the League Cup win over Raith Rovers over two months ago as the manager reshuffled his pack in light of a number of suspensions and injuries.

    The 22-year-old was restored to the midfield in place of the injured Scott Brown as the Hoops boss made three changes to the team that drew with Kilmarnock at the weekend.

    Kieran Tierney and Gary Mackay-Steven also come into the starting XI in place of the suspended Nir Bitton and Emilio Izaguirre, who was named among the substitutes. Charlie Mulgrew also took his place on the bench after a long period on the treatment table.

    It only took three minutes for McGregor to make his mark and vindicate his selection. Collecting a pass from Mackay-Steven in the inside left channel, he cut inside on to his right foot and curled a shot into the far corner beyond Cillessen.

    It was the perfect start from the Hoops, and Griffiths got his first sight of goal in the seventh minute from 25 yards, forcing Cillessen into a save with a low shot.  

    Backed by a boisterous home support and filled with renewed belief, Celtic were moving the ball around with pace and poise and causing their opponents problems, looking confident, despite the tactical alterations and changes in personnel.

    Ajax, for all their usual possession, weren’t threatening Craig Gordon, who was being well-protected by those in front of him.

    He was eventually called into action in the 20th minute when Lasse Schone was picked out by Nemanja Gudelj from a free-kick but his cross-shot was smothered by the goalkeeper at the near post.

    However, Frank de Boer’s side restored parity quickly after in somewhat fortuitous fashion. Schone’s shot took a wicked deflection and fell kindly for Viktor Fischer in the box. His effort was saved by Gordon but the rebound looped over Celtic’s No.1 and was hooked into the net by Milik

    James Forrest responded with a darting run and shot that was gathered by Cillessen, before the lively Amin Younes curled over at the other end after being supplied by Davy Klaassan.

    McGregor was taken out by Mike van der Hoorn, but he managed to get the ball away to Tierney on the left. His precise pass picked out Griffiths in the box, the striker lashing a shot into the side-netting.

    Tierney was becoming more prominent and another inviting low delivery from the left-back had the Ajax defence scrambling to deal with the danger.

    Griffiths’ pace had been causing van der Hoorn consternation and the hit-man appeared to be fouled by the defender after fastening on to a long pass over the top.

    He stayed on his feet, however, and some good strength from the frontman saw him get a shot away but he it lacked sufficient power to trouble Cillessen.

    And the Bhoys cut open the visitors once again on the stroke of half-time after a slick midfield move. Armstrong cruised past one player and then found Griffiths on the right. His early cross was met by Rogic, whose first-time effort was saved by Cillessen on the line.  

    Applauded off at the interval, Celtic continued where they had left off after the restart, with some intricate passages of play going forward and tremendous tackling from Tierney, in particular, keeping them on the front foot.

    Griffiths continued to be a menace, always looking to run in behind. Having been picked out by Rogic, now operating further forward in his more traditional No.10 role, he flashed a speculative shot well wide.

    However, it took until the 65th minute for the Hoops to register another attempt on target, with Forrest collecting a return pass from Griffiths and bringing out a save from Cillessen at his near post.

    Mulgrew then made his long-awaited return from injury, replacing Rogic, and he nearly witnessed a goal moments after his introduction as McGregor’s deflected drive cannoned off the top of the bar with Cillessen beaten.

    Scott Allan also entered the fray and he immediately demonstrated his creative qualities, sending a sublime pass through for Griffiths with his first touch, but Cillessen came to the rescue of the away side, diverting the shot wide.

    Roared on by the Hoops faithful, Celtic were finishing strongly and Jozo Simunovic was unlucky not to see his header back across goal from McGregor’s corner not finish up in the back of the net.

    Forrest had also continued his impressive form, giving Kenny Tete a torrid time once he switched to the left flank. A late challenge from the Ajax player on Forrest on the byline saw Armstrong deliver a pinpoint free-kick to the back post, with Mulgrew heading narrowly over.

    Griffiths came close again after Armstrong had picked him out in the box, but a deflection took the sting out of his final effort and Cillessen was able to make the save.  

    Although Younes did strike the post with a curling shot, Celtic were team looking most likely to find a winner, but a swift counter-attack proved their undoing.

    Allan was dispossessed on the edge of the box following a corner and that allowed Milik to pick out substitute Cerny, who raced in on goal and swept home.

    To compound Celtic’s misery, Mulgrew had to leave for the closing minutes, meaning Ronny Deila’s side had to play out the closing minutes with 10 men.

    As they committed men forward in desperation, Ajax had chances to add to their tally, which would have been cruel on Bhoys, who deserved more reward for their sterling efforts.  

    CELTIC (4-1-2-3) Gordon; Lustig, Boyata, Simunovic, Tierney (Izaguirre 78); Rogic (Mulgrew 66); McGregor, Armstrong; Forrest, Griffiths, Mackay-Steven (Allan 71)
    Not Used: Bailly, Ambrose, Stokes, Ciftci

    AJAX (4-2-1-3) Cillessen; Tete, Van der Hoorn (Sanogo 80), Riedewald, Dijks; Schone (van de Beek 72) Gudelj; Klaassen; Fischer (Cerny 68) Milik, Younes
    Not Used: Boer, van Rhijn, Heitinga, Viergever

    Website Man of the Match: Callum McGregor

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