Celtic crash out of Europa League with agonising Ajax defeat
Lee Gormley | November 26, 2015
Celtic 1-2 Ajax
- Callum McGregor opened the scoring for Celtic after just three minutes
- Arek Milik levelled proceedings later in the first-half
- Vaclav Cerby strikes late on to send Hoops crashing out
Celtic crash out of Europe
Ronny Deila’s Scottish Premiership champions Celtic were unable to recover from their early European misery, as the Hoops agonisingly crashed out of the Europa League following a narrow 2-1 defeat to Frank de Boer’s Ajax at Parkhead.
Callum McGregor gave the hosts hope on their tough quest to revive fortunes early on home soil, but Arek Milik struck in the first-half to level proceedings, with substitute Vaclav Cerny ending their hopes with a decisive goal in the dying minutes.
McGregor gifts Bhoys perfect start
After just three minutes played, Stuart Armstrong edged forward from midfield and picked out McGregor who had found himself in acres of space in the Dutch side’s half. After a swift burst of pace, the Scot turned onto his right foot on the edge of Ajax’s penalty area and clinically dispatched into the bottom corner, leaving Jasper Cillessen with no chance.
De Boer’s visitors looked shell-shocked from the early opener and proceeded to dominate possession, looking increasingly threatening from wide positions, with Amin Younes and Viktor Fischer growing into the game.
Ajax’s midfield anchors Nemanja Gudelj and skipper Davy Klaassen began to dictate play from the centre, pushing their teammates further forward and the captain almost created an opening for Lasse Schone, if not for solid Hoops defending.
Milik hurts Hoops
Although that same rearguard was left reeling after 22 minutes, when Fischer latched onto a deflected Schone strike, first having his attempt saved by Craig Gordon, before heading across goal for a lurking Arek Milik pouncing to equalise from close-range.
Both Bhoys centre halves Dedryck Boyata and Jozo Simunovic were signed by Deila in the summer to sure-up his backline, but the pair were unable to thwart the danger of Polish poacher Milik for the leveller, and were pegged back from there on as Ajax controlled the tempo.
In-form Griffiths had a great chance to tee-up Gary Mackay-Steven on the left within the Dutch outfit’s penalty area, but the Scotland international’s touch let him down at the vital moment as the visitors cleared any danger.
Mikael Lustig was troubled regularly by the wingplay of Younes, while Fischer and Kenny Tete were giving young left back Kieran Tierney plenty to think about on the opposite flank. However, with moments left before the break, the latter full back swiftly dashed forward to eventually win a corner, though Mike van der Hoorn and Jairo Riedewald had the situation under control.
Griffiths was again involved before the referee blew for half-time, as his low driven cross from the right wing nearly saw Tom Rogic put the Hoops ahead, though the fourth official had his flag raised anyway, with the sides going in level after the first 45 minutes.
Celtic came out for the second period showing plenty of urgency, but seemed to lack the confidence needed on the ball to take control and grab the victory they required.
Ajax growing in confidence
Although, with skipper Scott Brown looking on frustratingly from the stands, McGregor continued to look the most encouraging Bhoys battler in midfield, following his opener, but a lack of creativity was hurting Deila’s Hoops.
Griffiths cut another frustrated figure in the Bhoys attack too, as his efforts to get behind the Eredivisie side’s backline continued to end in further annoyance, being caught offside as well as firing high and wide after 58 minutes.
With 20 minutes left to play, Celtic tried to burst forward at every opportunity on the counter attack, with James Forrest and Mackay-Steven rapidly breaking down the flanks. Though the visitors were able to hold strong, with Tete and Mitchell Dijks up to the task of halting any wing danger.
Time running out
The versatile Charlie Mulgrew and Scott Allan were introduced by Deila in the latter stages, as a rapturous Parkhead crowd urged their team towards that vital winning goal.
Celtic’s vociferous fans almost got their wish with 15 minutes remaining as Griffiths saw another chance spurned, with Dutch stopper Cillessen sublimely saving during a one-on-one and Mulgrew also missing a seemingly easy header moments later.
The hosts were desperately seeking a goal to salvage their European hopes for this season, but it was Ajax who continued to dominate play and looked more likely of scoring in the dying minutes, as Parkhead reached a deafening atmosphere.
But the Bhoys fans were swiftly left heartbroken as Ajax burst forward from a cleared corner, following Celtic’s all-out commitment to scoring the winner, as substitute Cerny rounded off a 2-1 victory which saw the Glasgow club crashing out.
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