With one game remaining in the group, Celtic play in the European C league after Christmas. No other Europa team has lost as many goals as Celtic. For ten minutes, near the end, we dared to dream—we’d come from a goal down to lead.
Celtic started well, without creating anything. Bayer Leverkusen looked the more dangerous of the two teams. Frimpong, in particular, looked dangerous. He cut open the Celtic defence with an early one-two, but with no takers. Leverkusen’s first corner and Celtic were flapping. Ralston loses his man. The home team unlucky not to score. Sixteen minutes in, Leverkusen’s second corner and Celtic’s old failing at cross balls returned with a bang. Robert Andrich started his run outside the eighteen-yard line. Ralston again loses him and he scores from outside the six-yard box.
Kyogo had slim pickings, a few half-chances. VAR got Celtic a penalty after a ball in from Jota showed the Leverkusen keeper, Hradecky, had wiped out Kyogo. We all know Giorgos Giakoumakis missed our last penalty, which cost us points at home to Livingston. Josip Juranovic was back on penalty duty. Here he was ice-cool, panenka, chipping the ball down the centre of the goal, it hitting the underside of the bar, before going in.
Celtic rode their luck, just before half-time it really should have been 2—1 to the home side. Moussa Diaby hit the bar with a wonder strike. Amine Adli, the eighteen-year-old wonder-boy of German football, hits the post with the rebound.
Celtic, again, look like losing a goal from the first corner of the second-half.
Joe Hart keeps Celtic in the game with a marvellous double-save. An unmarked Moussa Diaby shuttles in between Ralston and Carter-Vickers. Hart spreads himself and saves his shot at the near post. The ball bounces up. Adli is left with a tap-in, but Hart scrambles to his feet, and gets his hands on the ball to deny him. The sort of save that can win games, or so we hoped.
But Hart goes one better, he helps set up Celtic’s second goal. His quick kick out finds James Forrest. His first-time flick finds Turnbull. He plays into the space in front of Nir Bitton. The Israeli has been a revelation in the last few matches, but his forward pass to Kyogo is intercepted by Jeremy Frimpong. The former Celtic player slips. Kyogo stabs the ball towards Jota. The Portuguese winger hits the ball first-time in off the post. With half-an-hour to go, Celtic are in dream land.
Reality quickly sets in. Juranovic plays the ball along the Celtic eighteen-yard line. Florian Wirtz has a clear shot at goal, but he fluffs it.
But Celtic still have a bit of sting. Forrest, who had a decent game, tried to play in Kyogo. Finnish keeper Hradecky races out of his goal to play sweeper-keeper.
Hart makes another save before Leverkusen equalise. Adli in, but the Celtic keeper blocks. Both teams made a raft of substations. Celtic once again take off their front line. Bitton also goes off injured. James McCarthy replaces him to no great effect.
Robert Andrich gets in Ralston’s face after he scores his second goal of the night on the 82nd minute and the equaliser. A sickner. Florian Wirtz floats one a ball over the Celtic defence. Amiri knocks it back from the touchline. Andrich from the penalty-spot scores.
Counting the minutes after the equaliser. Still, theoretically, a chance of the last-32 in the Europa.
Five minutes later that chance looks slim to non-existent. Diaby fires in and scores from the edge of the penalty-box.
Six-minutes-added time. Leverkusen running down the clock. I’m a great fan of the dog’s chance. We even have the pantomime of Joe Hart coming up for a corner. Ralston somehow gets to the line and whips a cross in. David Turnbull gets across his marker with a minute remaining, but Hradecky makes a decent save at the front post. Game over. Celtic have never won in Germany. They almost did tonight. We’d even have settled for a draw, but same old, same old, defensive fragilities. The league is our priority and the £40 million jackpot of an automatic Champions League spot. Dream on. Aberdeen on Sunday—another must win.