NEIL LENNON admitted his transfer plans could be in jeopardy following last night’s dismal Champions League exit.
The Celtic boss watched in dismay and disappointment as his players carelessly threw away the opportunity of dismissing the Romanians of Cluj with the team from Dracula country capitalising on a horror display from their opponents to win 4-3 at Parkhead.
That remarkable triumph from Dan Petrescu’s outfit, who came back twice in front of the Hoops fans in the east end of Glasgow, propelled them to the next stage on a 5-4 aggregate where they will now face Slavia Prague in the play-off with a place in the lucrative group stages awaiting the victors.
Lennon saw his players topple into the Europa League and blow a £30million windfall at the same time.
That cruel fact is bound to back-fire on his ongoing rebuild of the champions’ first team squad.
ANGUISH…Neil Lennon looks on from the touchline.
Asked if his spending would now be curtailed, the Irishman, speaking to the Daily Record, replied: “Yes, I’m sure it will, but that’s not at the forefront of my mind at the minute.
“We all wanted Champions League football and we have only ourselves to blame for not getting that.
“I said to the players (at half-time): ‘Look, you are blowing it. You’re playing this game as if it’s a friendly. I don’t know if you are disrespecting the opponent, but we’re so flat. This is a Champions League qualifier and at this minute we’re going out of the competition. Is that what you want? You’ve not laid a glove on the opposition for 45 minutes and you are far better than that’.
“Then, of course, we come out for the second-half and Kristoffer Ajer has one cleared off the line. Jozo Simunovic has a header saved and then we score.”
A dejected Lennon continued: “It’s suicidal the goals we gave away.
“I thought we were getting going and when we got the second goal I was thinking it would settle us.
“But obviously their second goal gave them a big impetus again.
DEJECTION…Scott Brown at the end.
“In the first-half we were so passive. No tempo, I don’t know where that came from. We weren’t physical or aggressive enough. We certainly didn’t work hard enough to stop crosses or second balls.
“All the nuts and bolts of the game – you’ve got to earn the right to play.
“We got a warning before the first goal, we didn’t stop a cross and they missed a header far post. You think that’s the warning, but then we do the exact same thing again.
“At half-time, we got after them a little bit and got the right response, but we shot ourselves in the foot with the goals we conceded.”
The Hoops were edging towards the play-off stage following goals from James Forrest and Odsonne Edouard, but a moment of sheer folly from Scott Brown when he needlessly handled a crossball presented the Romanians with a penalty-kick.
Billel Omrani’s spot-kick was not particuarly well-placed or well-struck, but it was enough to beat Scott Bain on his right side. The keeper got a hand to the ball, but couldn’t prevent it crossing the line for the goal that went a long way to turning the game on its head.
The shotstopper has looked far from convincing since the new campaign kicked off and the door could now be open for Craig Gordon to return to the No.1 spot against Dunfermline in the League Cup at Parkhead on Saturday.
BACK-FIRE…Callum McGregor’s switch to left-back flopped.
Celtic managed to regain the advantage through a sharply-taken strike from Ryan Christie, but their opponents scored again when Bain could only push a shot from the right into the path of Omrani who gleefully fired a shot into the roof of the net.
Any thoughts of Lennon’s men turning it around were dynamited with the last kick of the ball in stoppage time when George Tucudean raced away to tuck his side’s fourth counter into the net, the sixth goal the champions have lost in two games after the 5-2 win at Motherwell on Saturday.
Lennon went on: “We had the lead twice and gave it away. The first goal, you are thinking ‘wake-up call’. The second one is an individual mistake. The third goal, we’ve got plenty of defenders back, but we just let the guy run off us and get a shot away. We should have done better with the rebound.
“The fourth goal is academic because we are just throwing everything at them to score again. We had enough chances to win the game, but wasted 45 minutes.
“If we played anywhere near as well in the first-half as we did in the second-half, we would have been through.”
DISMAY…Odsonne Edouard scored an excellent goal, but to no avail.
The Parkhead gaffer added: “At 2-1, it’s always in the balance so you need to try and get the third goal. Anything can happen, penalties, a set-play, deflection. So it was important we went for it. When we played into Odsonne, we had the chance to make more opportunities, but didn’t.
“That’s an aspect of our game we need to look at, we need to be more ruthless. To score three goals at home and not win the game, we’ve only ourselves to blame.
“It’s hugely disappointing for us all as a collective. We have to accept the criticism which comes our way – whether it be from the media, our own supporters or elsewhere.
“We need to regroup, qualify for the Europa League and make a strong claim in that.”
Celtic have now dropped into the secondary competition where they will play the winners of the tie between Moldova’s Sheriff and Sweden’s AIK with the latter holding a 2-1 lead from last week’s first game.