FOR the first time in three years, Celtic will not revel in the sound of the Champions League anthem after they took their leave of this season’s tournament with barely a whimper.
Legia Warsaw 2 - Zyro (36), Kucharczyk (61)
Legia won 6-1 on aggregate
Referee: P Mazzoleni (Italy)
Attendance: 30,000 (est)
On an uncomfortable evening for both new manager Ronny Deila and chief executive Peter Lawwell at Murrayfield last night, the Scottish champions were humbled by a solid but far from spectacular Legia Warsaw side, whose ease of passage into the Play-Off round will have surprised them as much as anyone.
Deila was outmanoeuvred tactically by his Norwegian compatriot Henning Berg over the course of this tie, with both the manner and size of defeat casting significant early question marks over his suitability as Neil Lennon’s successor.
For Lawwell, who was subjected to profane abuse from the Green Brigade section of the club’s support, the lack of close season investment in the squad is an issue laid firmly at his door as he ponders missing out on the £15million jackpot from the Champions League group stage.
Celtic must now turn their attention to the less lucrative Europa League, dropping into the Play-Off round, but on the evidence of this tepid and unimaginative display, it is by no means certain they will win that tie.
Michal Zyro’s first-half goal increased Legia’s comfort zone after their 4-1 first-leg win, with Michal Kucharczyk completing a scoreline after the break which equalled Celtic’s heaviest-ever margin of aggregate defeat in 50 seasons of European football.
Despite the magnitude of the task, Deila resisted the temptation to commit himself completely to the kind of all-guns-blazing approach which was once the hallmark of many a stirring European comeback from Celtic.
Anthony Stokes returned to the starting line-up at the expense of Teemu Pukki, although the Irish international’s record of no goals in 13 previous Champions League appearances hardly cast him in the role of likely saviour for the Glasgow club.
He was the only out and out striker in Deila’s starting line-up, with Kris Commons deployed just behind him. Callum McGregor and Stefan Johansen were delegated to provide the width in midfield, while Nir Biton was preferred in the central area to Jan Inge Berget, who had endured such a wretched debut in Warsaw seven days earlier. But, while Celtic did manage to dominate possession in the initial exchanges, they did so without seriously troubling the visitors’ goal. At the other end, it did not take long for evidence to surface of the defensive frailty which proved so costly in the first leg.
Fraser Forster, the subject of fresh speculation earlier in the day linking him with a move to Southampton, had to scramble across his six-yard box in the ninth minute to fist the ball clear after his back four had failed to deal with Tomasz Brzyski’s corner from the left.
The jitters seemed to transmit themselves to the English international goalkeeper, who was then guilty of a poor kick out, which went straight to Legia captain Ivica Vrdoljak. Fortunately for Forster, he was able to save the Croatian midfielder’s shot with some comfort.
Adam Matthews, back in his favoured right-back role as Mikael Lustig moved to central defence to partner Virgil van Dijk in the absence of the suspended Efe Ambrose, produced Celtic’s first moment of real attacking menace with a terrific run into the penalty area, his cutback bravely intercepted by Legia keeper Dusan Kuciak before it could reach Johansen.
The Polish champions certainly had no intention of simply protecting their first-leg lead and caught Celtic flat-footed at the back once more when Kucharczyk beat the offside trap to set up a chance for Lukasz Broz, whose shot was held by Forster.
McGregor, whose early goal last week had given Celtic the perfect start in Warsaw, looked the most likely source of a breakthrough for them once more as he clearly had the beating of Legia left-back Brzyski. The young midfielder showed great strength and movement to get away from his marker in the 18th minute and find Charlie Mulgrew who posted Celtic’s first effort on target with a shot easily gathered by Kuciak.
Seven minutes later, McGregor took the ball on the edge of the penalty area after Emilio Izaguirre’s low cross found its way to him and he sent a curling shot wide of Kuciak’s right-hand post.
When Matthews then wasted a hugely promising situation for Celtic, delivering a dreadful ball straight to a Legia defender when he had broken free into the penalty area again, a palpable sense of frustration began to fill the stadium. That quickly turned into a deflated mood of resignation when Legia opened the scoring on the night with Zyro’s 36th-minute goal.
It was yet another defensive horror show for Celtic as Vrdoljak’s through ball caught the back four on their heels, allowing Zyro a free run at Forster. The Legia player was unfazed by the sight of the big keeper advancing and coolly slotted a low shot into the corner of the net.
Celtic tried to rally to what was now clearly a lost cause, forcing a bout of pressure on the Legia goal at the start of the second half. Stokes had one tame effort easily dealt with by Kuciak, but then managed to force the Slovakian international into his first genuine save of the evening with a curling effort which he dived to his left to turn behind.
Commons volleyed wide from close range as the goal which might have sparked a flicker of hope continued to elude Celtic. Deila sent on Leigh Griffiths for Lustig in a bid to add fresh impetus up front but his hopes of a minor footballing miracle were then completely extinguished when Legia made it 2-0 on the night in the 61st minute.
Again, the goal was in keeping with Celtic’s capacity for comic-cuts defending in this tie. Izaguirre inexcusably lost possession on the edge of his penalty area, causing panic among his team-mates as Zyro fed Kucharczk who was able to take the ball around the exposed Forster and slot it home from close range.
Celtic: Forster, Matthews, Lustig (Griffiths 57), Van Dijk, Izaguirre; McGregor, Biton, Mulgrew, Johansen; Commons (Pukki 71); Stokes (Forrest 71). Subs not used: Zaluska, Henderson, Kayal, Berget.
Legia Warsaw: Kuciak, Broz, Astiz, Rzezniczak, Brzyski; Zyro (Bereszynski 87), Jodlowiec, Vrdoljak, Kucharczyk (Kosecki 74); Duda (Pinto 87), Radovic. Subs not used: Jalocha, Dossa Junior, Saganowski, Orlando Sa.