Celtic boss Brendan Rodgers has turned his attention to the Europa League after finding Champions League football “a step too far” this season.
Rodgers, who had taken the Bhoys to the group stages of the competition in his first two years in charge, had admitted the second-leg of the third qualifier against AEK Athens in the Olympic Stadium on Tuesday night was his biggest qualifying challenge to date, following the 1-1 draw at Parkhead last week.
Within six minutes, his side were a goal down through a Rodrigo Galo strike, with Croatian striker Marko Livaja heading in a second five minutes after the break.
Parkhead substitute Scott Sinclair pulled a goal back in the 78th minute, but despite a grand finale, the Scottish champions could not fashion a second which would have put them through on away goals.
The Scottish champions drop down to the Europa League play-off, where they will face Latvian side Spartaks Jurmala or Lithuanian side Suduva, and Rodgers said: “The Europa League is still a prestigious competition.
“The two seasons I’ve been here, we’ve qualified for the Champions League, but it’s been a step too far this season.
First of all, we have to get through that final play-off game and ensure that we have European football.
“At this moment in time, we’re disappointed with the result of the game and the way we went out. “
Rodgers bemoaned some slack defending for their Champions League exit.
“I think in general, in the game, we played very well, but we conceded two soft goals. When you add that to the goal we conceded in the first leg, then we’re really disappointed.
“I thought we played the better football over the course of the two games.
In the main, there weren’t too many opportunities against us, but you can’t concede that easily and unfortunately it’s cost us.
In the aftermath of Tuesday’s disappointment, former Celtic midfielder Kris Commons was quick to stick the boot in, claiming Rodgers’ signings have not been good enough.
Commons said: “When you are adding players, it needs to be of a certain quality. Looking at the signings Brendan Rodgers has made since he came in two years ago, he has brought in 15 players. Only two started last night.
“He signed two goalkeepers in Dorus de Vries and Scott Bain, two centre-halves in Marvin Compper and Jack Hendry, a right-back, Cristian Gamboa, he’s just signed Emilio Izaguirre again.
“He has had the funds to get players, but of not great quality and it’s not making any impact on the side at all.
“Of the players he has signed, probably three or four, maximum, pass the mark: Scott Sinclair, Edouard, (Moussa) Dembele and (Olivier) Ntcham.
Whoever is in control of bringing in players need to have a look at themselves in the mirror, because the quality is not good enough.
Commons, who did not feature in a season under Rodgers before a back problem forced him to quit, added: “Peter Lawwell does not have a blank chequebook. Brendan Rodgers has spent nearly £25m on transfer fees — that’s without signing-on fees, wages, agent fees — in 24 months. Neil Lennon and Ronny Deila probably spent £25m (€28m) in five years, Brendan Rodgers has done it in 24 months.
“Peter Lawwell is probably thinking: ‘You know what, we have given you enough money and we are still in the same position, thinking we need more defenders’.”
Former Celtic boss Gordon Strachan also defended the board.
“I’ve been there to deal with the board and they tell you how much you can spend and you have to stick to that,” Strachan told.
“They want to sign players, of course they do, but it’s not always that easy. They’re protecting an institution, and they cannot risk it.
“You saw what happened with Rangers, where they almost lost their club, and Celtic can never put themselves in that position.”