Celtic’s Euro hopes on knife-edge

Legia Warsaw 4 Celtic 1
Celtic’s Champions League hopes are hanging by a thread after a dispiriting defeat in Warsaw in the third qualifying round first leg that also saw the home side miss two penalties.

Manager Ronny Deila gave new signing Jo Inge Berget his Celtic debut despite the forward only arriving from Cardiff on a six-month loan deal on Monday — but it was a product of Celtic’s youth academy who made the first impact.

Callum McGregor, who had scored the winner against KR Reykjavik on his European debut in the previous round, got the Scottish champions off to a great start when he drifted in off the right flank past left-back Tomasz Jodlowiec before firing in a left-footed drive from 20 yards which gave home keeper Dusan Kuciak no chance.

However, barely had the cheers of the 160 or so Celtic fans inside the 31,000-capacity stadium subsided when Legia drew level as the Parkhead defence dropped their guard. When Legia’s highly coveted midfielder Michal Zyro played in Miroslav Radovic the Croat had plenty of time inside the Celtic box to get his shot away.

However, Celtic quickly reasserted themselves and looked equally as threatening as the Polish side, with midfielder Kris Commons coming close with an effort from 18 yards midway through the first half.

But the slackness prevalent in the Hoops defence would have been giving Deila palpitations and in the 36th minute, just after Teemu Pukki had missed a decent chance, the home side forged ahead.

Zyro’s cross was headed down at the back post by Michal Kucharczyk and, with the Celtic defence slow to react and Efe Ambrose slipping, Radovic fired in from close range.

The Glasgow side were stunned but Legia’s defence appeared as ropey as their own and a few minutes later McGregor drew a decent save from Kuciak with a sidefooted shot from 18 yards.

However, when Ambrose was sent packing in the 44th minute for bringing down Kucharczyk just outside the box — the free-kick came to nothing — it looked an uphill task for the Hoops.

Striker Pukki made way for midfielder Beram Kayal and Commons moved up to lead the line, with captain Charlie Mulgrew dropping into defence.

Celtic were given a break when Ivica Vrdoljak sent his penalty wide of the target and slowly the Parkhead side began to sense that they could sneak another goal.

Commons had the ball in the Legia net but the offside flag had been up for an age. It was further evidence, though, that the visitors did not want to settle for the narrow defeat.

But with six minutes remaining, Zyro headed in a cross from Radovic for Legia’s third goal.

Forster’s penalty save from Vrdoljak was then negated when Jakub Kosecki made it 4-1 in the last minute of normal time to leave Celtic with it all to do next week.

LEGIA WARSAW: Kuciak, Broz, Rzezniczak, Astiz, Brzyski, Zyro (Saganowski 87), Jodlowiec, Vrdoljak, Kucharczyk (Kosecki 75), Duda, Radovic.

CELTIC: Forster, Matthews, Ambrose, van Dijk, Lustig, Johansen, Mulgrew, McGregor, Commons (Griffiths 75), Berget (Izaguirre 62), Pukki (Kayal 45).

Referee: Pol van Boekel (Netherlands).


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