3 talking points as Celtic lose to Bayer Leverkusen in Germany
Bayer Leverkusen are backed by one of the world’s biggest pharmaceutical companies and Celtic swallowed the bitterest pill in North Rhine.
The Hoops were on course for a famous first-ever win on German soil after coming from behind to take the lead in the BayArena only to be left sickened by a late, late show after a breathless 90 minutes.
Robert Andrich headed home after just 16 minutes after Celtic failed to heed an earlier warning when the midfielder was off target from a corner.
Ange Postecoglou’s men were second best but levelled five minutes before the break in exquisite fashion as Josip Juranovic netted a Panenka penalty.
And then, after a superb double save by Joe Hart, Jota completed an unbelievable turnaround as he fired them into the lead before the hour mark.
It was remarkable stuff but Andrich completed his double with just nine minutes left to deny Celtic a famous win and Moussa Diaby scored a dramatic winner.
It ends Celtic’s hopes of Europa League group stage football but they still have the consolation of the Conference League, which was already secured.
Gerardo Seoane’s men thumped the Hoops 4–0 in the east end of Glasgow but had won just twice in their last eight games going into this one.
The visitors wanted to add to that patchy run of form and handed Hampden hero James Forrest his first start since August as they looked to get at the Germans.
But Celtic were lucky not to be a goal down after just 10 minutes when Andrich sent a free header over from a corner.
The Hoops were under the cosh and familiar face Jeremie Frimpong was causing problems down the right for Leverkusen.
And an increasingly likely opener for the home side arrived with just over quarter of an hour played - and it was a carbon copy of Bayer’s earlier chance.
Wonder boy Florian Wirtz swung in a corner from the right and this time Andrich did hit the target as he made a run into the box to bullet past Joe Hart.
It was tough to see a way back at that stage but Kyogo got in behind and although he was flagged offside and his shot was just wide it was at least a positive sign.
And then they did get back into the game when Greek referee Tasos Sidiropoulos consulted VAR before awarding a penalty after Kyogo was wiped out by Bayer keeper and skipper Lukas Hradecky at a Jota cross.
Juranovic stepped up and it was as cool as you like from the Croatian who dinked the ball down the middle and in off the underside of the crossbar.
It was an audacious piece of skill at a big moment yet he was careless at the other end just before half-time as he almost cost his side.
Sloppy play handed Leverkusen possession as Celtic were TWICE saved by the woodwork - the first when Diaby struck crossbar and then Amine Adli also sent the rebound off the post.
If the frame of the goal came to their rescue on that occasion then it was goalkeeper Hart who made a miracle stop to keep the Germans out early in the second half.
The home side got in too easily as Diaby raced away from Anthony Ralston but Hart saved with his feet and then Adli thought he had a tap in from the rebound but the Celtic keeper somehow recovered to save again.
It was heroic stuff and the importance of that was underlined as the Hoops then took the lead with Hart starting the counter attack with a throw to James Forrest.
Forrest back heeled it into David Turnbull’s path who fed Nir Bitton and the Israeli played it into Kyogo who, after Frimpong slipped, laid it off to Jota and he struck a superb shot into the far corner.
Celtic were in dreamland but had 34 minutes to hold out and looked like they were going to do it.
But two goals in five minutes in the last 10 minutes of the game left them sickened and it has to be said two late double change - Nir Bitton and Kyogo going off with James McCarthy and Albian Ajeti on after Liel Abada and Mikey Johnston replaced Jota and James Forrest - didn't help.
Andrich got his second and it was ironic that it was a shot through the legs of Hart and then he turned provider with a cross which Diaby stepped onto to send a great shot into the net.
Here's three talking points from the BayArena
Top marks against the best going forward but defensive naivety costly
“We’ve got to measure ourselves against the best,” said Ange Postecoglou before what was their toughest test in the group.
And his Celtic side certainly went toe to toe against a top, top side in a country where they had never won which makes the defeat all the more hard to take.
Considering the Hoops had lost 4-0 at home to the Bundesliga side then it illustrated the great strides Celtic have taken under Postecoglou.
It was always going to take time for the former Australia manager to get the side playing in his style but they are frightening when in full flow and just need to tighten up that defence.
The first goal was schoolboy defending and at 2-1 up they shouldn't have left with nothing.
Celtic’s flair players have had so much praise this season in the free-flowing and eye-catching Angeball style.
But, while he has looked suspect at times, the signing of Joe Hart from Tottenham Hotspur has been shrewd.
And he pulled off an absolutely incredible save to deny Amine Adli who thought he had a tap in after the ball broke to him after Hart’s initial save from Moussa Diaby.
It was an unbelievable stop and at a crucial time as the Hoops then went up the park shortly after to score the second.
Hart made another fine stop with his foot from Adli but was beaten, ironically, with a shot through his legs late on before that late sickener.
Celtic were in a spot of bother recently when Giorgos Giakoumakis missed a last-gasp chance to seal a vital win against Livingston from the spot.
Many Hoops legions were scratching their head as to why the Greek had taken it in the first place after Josip Juranovic had cooly slotted away two previous penalties.
But Ange Postecoglou explained Giakoumakis was the designated taker and hadn’t been on the pitch on the previous occasions.
Well, surely there can be no debate now. Hearts were in mouths when his super-nonchalant penalty went in off the crossbar but it took big cojones to try it and he was rewarded with the equaliser.
And the full back should stay on the penalties from now on even if it might mean a few nerves when he steps up in future.