A lament to lost opportunities… through the missing of them. Not the entire story of the 2-0 home loss to RB Leipzig that leaves them not just unable to qualify. But a central plotline as surely they prepare to exit European football entirely. A consequence of their one-point haul from four games to leave them five adrift of the Germans and four behind Shakhtar Donetsk in Group F with two matches remaining.
Leipzig were ultimately slicker and more ruthless in striking twice in the closing quarter of an hour. The damage caused by Timo Werner thundering in from an Andre Silva cut-back after 75 minutes before substitute Emil Fosberg slammed high past Joe Hart nine minutes later. But Celtic will wonder what would have ensued had they converted golden opportunities in the first half, Greg Taylor and Matt O’Riley both striking the woodwork, and Kyogo Furuhashi and Daizen Maeda lacking the sangfroid their rivals – even when thwarted by Hart on several occasions – ultimately displayed.
As a result, the mournful refrains are all still in place. Celtic have now only two wins in 24 games in the competition, have failed to score in nine of their last 12 home games at this level, and are still nine years without a Celtic Park victory in the domain. All outcomes expected with much doom-mongering about Celtic prospects even before a ball was kicked. Understandable, when arguably the club’s two most influential players were missing with Jota joining captain Callum McGregor on the sidelines. And during the opening exchanges of a suffocatingly tense first period, the loss of the duo seemed to find Postecolgou’s team exhibiting apprehension as they sought to feel their way into the encounter against more assured opponents.
It wasn’t that Matt O’Riley particularly struggled to slot into McGregor’s midfield anchor role, or that Daizen Maeda could offer a threat on the right – the Japanese looped a header just over in the second minute. More the fact, in the cat-and-mouse as both sides attempted to squeeze the other with their press, the Germans appeared to have the bigger whiskers and claws. Until, that is, Celtic began to find their agility to work their way through the visitors lines with sharp one-touch passing that shifted the momentum midway through the period.
It was then that their moments came … and went, in altogether familiar fashion across this exasperating Champions League campaign. From forcing a series of corners, on the 27th minute O’Riley was desperately unlucky to see a low effort smack the base of the post. From the rebound, though, Taylor was simply wasteful, leaning back to club the ball on to the crossbar from 12 yards when he had the whole target to aim for.
When Furuhashi powered a header wide from a glorious position two minutes later, a familiar script seemed to be in the gestation. But Leipzig, showed weaknesses with their own sightings of goal. Just not as many as Celtic, who, even at 2-0 down found ways to fail to find the target with O’Riley having an effort saved and substitute Giorgos Giakoumakis heading wide from close in. Celtic’s ghastly campaign isn’t a system failure but a striking – in every sense – one.