CELTIC defender Kelvin Wilson has insisted that Spanish referee Alberto Mallenco and his assistants cannot be held responsible for the crushing 3-0 defeat suffered against Juventus.
Mallenco came under fire from Celtic manager Neil Lennon and several of his players in the immediate aftermath of Tuesday night’s contest for failing to punish Juventus defenders for manhandling opponents in the penalty area at set pieces.
Gary Hooper, Celtic’s leading scorer, was specifically targeted by the Italian champions as they earned a commanding lead to take into the second leg of the tie in Turin on 6 March.
The anger and frustration in the Celtic camp was understandable as they tried to come to terms with their heaviest home defeat in Europe for 18 years, one which leaves their hopes of reaching the quarter-finals of the Champions League in tatters.
But Wilson has refused to join the condemnation of Juventus’ controversial tactics, the big English centre-half admitting that he would happily employ them himself in his own penalty area.
“That’s what Italian defenders are renowned for,” said Wilson. “They make sure they get a hold of you in those situations.
“I’m a defender myself, so I’m not going to say bad things about it. It’s good defending in my eyes. I’ll do the same at the other end.
“As a striker, I can understand it is a bit frustrating for Gary Hooper and the likes but that’s football, you’ve just got to get on with it at times. You can’t always moan about decisions.”
Celtic’s assignment in northern Italy next month may now be widely regarded as little more than a formality but Wilson is adamant that the Scottish champions cannot allow themselves to be resigned to the certainty of elimination from the tournament.
He believes the most famous comeback in Champions League history, Liverpool’s 2005 final triumph in Istanbul when they scored three goals in a six-minute spell to wipe out a 3-0 half-time deficit against AC Milan, can provide some inspiration.
“I don’t think it is over yet,” added Wilson. “If you say ‘Yes, it is’, then it’s a waste of time us going over there in a few weeks.
“You have to remember anything can happen in football.
“Look at Liverpool in that final against a great Milan team, they were 3-0 down and came back to win the trophy on penalties.
“It’s going to be hard for us, we know that. We’re not stupid. But we’re not going to write it off. No-one expected us to beat Barcelona earlier in the campaign and that can inspire us too, although we can’t keep living off that result.
“We just need to do something over in Turin now. It is going to be tough, but we’ll have a go. It will without a doubt need one of the club’s greatest ever performances to turn this around, especially at their place.
“Juventus are top of Serie A and I don’t think they’ve lost many games at home.
“But we’ll go and have a go, that’s all we can do. We’re a confident bunch of boys.”
Wilson’s central defensive partner Efe Ambrose endured an especially torrid night against Juventus, making errors which led to two goals as he started the match just 48 hours after helping Nigeria win the Africa Cup of Nations in Johannesburg.
“Efe’s a big boy, he’ll recover from it,” said Wilson. “We all have situations like that and, unfortunately, Efe’s had it against Juventus.
“It’s a massive, massive game. But Efe’s got great experience, he’s just won the Africa Cup of Nations and he’ll come back from it, he’ll bounce back from it no problem.
“Personally, I wasn’t surprised he started the game. He trained with us in the morning and he seemed fine.
“He had a spring in his step. The gaffer thought so too and that’s his job. He started and I wasn’t surprised. I don’t think anyone in our squad was.”