A banner describing Celtic Park as a “ballroom of remembrance” was hoisted high before kick-off. A sentiment so drenched in nostalgia, noble though it was, might not have been the rallying cry Celtic were looking for. This was a night to forget.
Borussia belied their current position of ninth in the Bundesliga to post the victory that turns an already difficult task of securing European football beyond Christmas into a hugely problematic one for Celtic.
The German visitors don’t always travel well to Scotland; high-scoring defeats against Rangers and Dundee United stretching back to 1960 attest to this. But this, their first away victory in the European Cup since they reached the final in 1977, was richly deserved.
Second-half goals by skipper Lars Stindl and Andre Hahn secured a win the visitors had threatened to take away from Celtic Park from almost the first kick.
But impressive though they were, Celtic were complicit in their own downfall. Kolo Toure was at fault for both goals, the first of which was whipped through Craig Gordon’s legs after 57 minutes by Stindl. Hahn, man of the match, finished Celtic off with a fine strike with 13 minutes left after Toure had been robbed of possession.
Celtic slip to bottom of Group C with a vital return trip to Germany to be negotiated next.
Borussia’s passing was always quick and crisp while Celtic’s lacked certainty, perhaps even some belief. Indeed, the home side were grateful to Gordon for ensuring one of Borussia’s early breaks forward did not produce the game’s first goal.
The goalkeeper’s save low to his left while seemingly unsighted from Ibrahima Traore’s shot from the edge of the box once more vindicated his return to the side.
But the opening – if such an opportunist effort in a crowded box could be so termed – simply continued the trend of a game that was already slipping away from Celtic. This was a pattern maintained throughout; Celtic always seemed to be hanging on.
Gordon showed his worth when making a stop from Jonas Hofmann after 25 minutes and was then called on to palm Hahn’s drive over.
It must have been concerning for manager Brendan Rodgers, whose pre-match manifesto was based around Celtic imposing themselves on their opponents, something they managed – to an extent – against Manchester City last month.
But they struggled to break out of their own half for long spells. Scott Brown was too ponderous on those rare occasions he had the ball and Celtic’s defence was stretched to the point that it was impossible to imagine Borussia failing to make a breakthrough sooner or later.
But Toure and his companions dug in. They weathered the storm and the score still being level at 0-0 at half-time represented a mini victory for Celtic, who now had the opportunity to compose themselves. By this same stage of their last Champions League outing they had scored two and conceded two on a breathless night against Manchester City.
But underlining just how unfathomable football often is, Celtic left the field harbouring a twinge of regret that they were not in fact in front.
Having failed to put the visitors’ goal any under form of sustained pressure, wonderful skill combined with vision by Tom Rogic in midfield created a precious opening. His pass split Borussia’s defence and, though the angle was tight, Sinclair should have done far better than to blaze the ball over.
But it was a sign there could still be something in this game for Celtic, who were unchanged at the start of the second-half. That all three substitutes had been used by midway through the same half indicates how badly, and quickly, things then unravelled.
But Celtic had posted some notice of their intent just after the break. As the fug of cordite from flares wafted across the stadium from the away section, the home side sought to create some fireworks of their own.
Sinclair sent a header wide from a good position to offer some hope of the game being provided with a new dynamic. The fans were desperate to see Celtic on the front foot. But a chip from Tobias Strobl drifted past Gordon’s far post.
The goal Borussia deserved arrived soon after and, while they had earned the right to be in front, it was a frustratingly preventable goal as far as Celtic were concerned.
Toure sought to shepherd a through ball out of play but the impressive Hahn dived in and flicked it back into the danger area. Stindl reacted before Erik Sviatchenko to whip the ball into the net through Gordon’s legs.
Embarrassing though this might have been for the ’keeper, the fault lay elsewhere. Sviatchenko, one of the culprits, redeemed himself with a brilliant last-ditch tackle on Hahn.
But there was no such atonement for Toure, who gifted possession to the Germans after 77 minutes. Hahn still had much to do when the ball broke at his feet: his finish, high into the net, was impeccable.