Celtic suffered the second defeat of their pre-season programme of friendlies when their late rally failed to peg back CFR Cluj of Romania in Kufstein, Austria, last night.
Scorers: Celtic: Samaras 81; CFR Cluj: Costea 9; Kapetanos 65
A flukish late goal from Giorgios Samaras was not enough to overturn two fine scores by Cluj, and following the 0-1 loss to Sevastopol, this foray to the continent has a distinctly downbeat look to it.
A disjointed Celtic were not exactly vorsprung durch teamwork against Cluj, with numerous passes going astray and new and established players not certain where they should be on the pitch. Manager Neil Lennon will be worried that the all-important Champions League matches against Northern Irish side Cliftonville – the first in ten days’ time – are coming too soon for his squad, though it has to be said that Cluj, the Romanian champions of 2011-12, who finished ninth in their league last season, are much nearer the start of their domestic campaign than Celtic.
Lennon continued with his policy of blooding youngsters, Liam Henderson retaining his place and Calum Waters making his first start, while new signings Virgil van Dijk and Amido Balde also retained their places.
Kelvin Wilson started, as did Gary Hooper up front, while Beram Kayal and Kris Commons led a midfield missing captain Scott Brown and Victor Wanyama. Steven Mouyokolo was on the bench, having signed a one-year contract in midweek.
Cluj went ahead after just nine minutes, former St Johnstone player Gregory Tade finding Florin Costea at the edge of the box after slack play by Dylan McGeouch. The internationalist striker curled in a superb shot off the inside of the post, with Celtic goalkeeper Fraser Forster well beaten.
It was the Forster show after that, the big Englishman making a series of saves as Celtic appeared curiously lax, while Wilson had to look lively to block a Tade effort after 35 minutes.
Many of the Celtic players looked rusty at times, and the Scottish champions only threatened the Romanians’ goal occasionally. Hooper had shot just wide early on, and that was just about the only clear chance of the half for Celtic.
At half-time, Lennon sent on Charlie Mulgrew, James Forrest and Darnell Fisher for Henderson, McGeouch and Mikael Lustig, but it was the introduction of Samaras for Balde just before the hour mark which saw Celtic really perk up, though they went further behind five minutes later, Pantelis Kapetanos sliding the ball home after a good move down the Cluj left flank.
Celtic showed improvement as the game wore on and in the 70th minute a Commons cross was just missed by Kayal. Forrest’s follow-up was deflected for a corner with which Van Dijk connected, heading just over the bar
After 81 minutes, a Forrest cross missed out everyone in a crowded six-yard box and the ball bounced off Samaras’s knee, with Mulgrew pirouetting to allow the ball in.
Next up for Celtic is Gruether Furth in the Trolli Arena in Bavaria on Tuesday. Lennon and the Celtic fans know pre-season form is not always indicative of how the team will perform once the serious business is under way, but they will be hoping for a better display.