Celtic’s hopes of making the Champions League group stages for a third successive year collapsed with little more than a whimper as the Scottish champions capitulated 2-0 to Legia Warsaw at Murrayfield on Wednesday night.
Ronny Deila’s side were already facing an uphill battle to overcome the first leg 4-1 defeat to Legia last week and any hint of a fight back disappeared just after the half hour mark when Legia took the lead through Michal Zyro.
The players were booed off at half time and when Legia extended their lead on the hour mark through Michal Kucharczyk, that was enough for some Celtic fans as the exit door was more of a welcome sign than the green and white hooped jerseys on the Murrayfield pitch.
The 6-1 aggregate defeat to the Polish champions now sees Celtic drop into the ugly sister of European football, the Europa League. Even then they need to play one more qualifying round before making the group stages.
More importantly than the loss of the Champions League anthem is the loss of £20 million in revenue from Europe’s elite club competition and with that come the consequences as some of Celtic’s big players – Fraser Forster and Virgil van Dijk – will bid adieu to Parkhead.
While Deila will be an easy target for many in the Celtic support and in the mainstream media, but this team was Lennon’s and one that has been weakened by the sale of their best players and penny-pinching. From the team that beat Barcelona two years ago only seven players remain and five of those in Celtic’s starting line-up tonight.
But over the course of four Champions League qualifiers only Callum McGregor impressed while experienced players were posted missing or looked disinterested.
It looked somewhat rosier at the start of the match as Celtic pushed forward looking for that all-important early goal, but as they lurched forward Legia – relying on the counter attack – proved a more potent force and were the first to have a clear-cut shot on goal.
On 10 minutes Legia skipper Ivica Vrdoljak hit a 20 yard effort which saw Forster have to pull off a save.
Legia were soaking up the pressure from Celtic and countering throughout as shots on goal were traded at both ends but neither could find the break through.
Celtic came close to opening the scoring on 33 minutes as Adam Matthews drove down the right flank and into the visitor’s penalty box but his cut back failed to find a team mate. The Scottish champions were made to pay for that missed opportunity just three minutes later.
Kucharczyk laid the ball off to Zyro, who shrugged off Izaguirre, before slotting the ball past Forster to give the Poles the lead.
On 59 minutes, Stokes forced Kuciak into a good save before Commons failed to hit the target with his shot.
With Celtic now chasing the game, which was effectively over anyway, Leigh Griffiths replaced Mikael Lustig as Chalie Mulgrew dropped back into defence.
However, there was no organisation, no leadership and no fighting spirit in Celtics players and Legia capitalised once more as Kucharczyk gathered a Zyro pass before rounding Forster and scoring from an acute angle.
Things turned rather ugly and volatile inside Murrayfield as the fans turned on the Celtic directors in attendance, specifically chief executive Peter Lawwell, with many seeing his penny-pinching and downsizing at the club to blame for Celtic’s demise in recent years.
As the final whistle sounded, the players trudged off the field to the soundtrack of mass booing from those Celtic fans still in attendance at Murrayfield, while the Legia players celebrated a 6-1 aggregate victory that no one could have predicted.
In fact Legia faced a tougher test against Irish side St. Patrick’s Athletic in the previous round of the competition than they did with Celtic. Just going to show how poor Celtic actually were over the two legs.
As Legia progress, deservedly so, into the next round of the competition there will be plenty of activity at Parkhead with players departing and with the club’s hierarchy trying to do some damage limitation – despite it being too little too late.
They ran the gauntlet of refusing to spend money at the start of the campaign last season and they lucked out, this season Celtic’s ‘biscuit tin’ mentality came back to bite them hard and it will have far-reaching consequences throughout the season.