Celtic 1-3 Red Bull Salzburg: Hoops limp through

Celtic's Anthony Stokes (right) retains possession from Salzburg's Andre Ramalho. Picture: SNS
Celtic's Anthony Stokes (right) retains possession from Salzburg's Andre Ramalho. Picture: SNS
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NO CELTIC manager is ever in a position to dismiss defeat lightly but this was at least an entry in Ronny Deila’s loss column without tangible consequences.

Scorers: Celtic - Johansen (30); Red Bull Salzburg - Borges de Carvalho (8, 13) Keita (90)

On a night when Red Bull Salzburg deservedly became the first Austrian team ever to win a European tie on Scottish soil, Celtic joined them nonetheless in reaching the last 32 of the Europa League, courtesy of Dinamo Zagreb’s failure to beat Astra in the other Group D tie.

It means the Scottish champions’ trip to the Croatian capital in a fortnight is now a dead rubber but Deila’s team will still be expected to show a far more convincing level of performance if they are to harbour any serious hopes of making an impact in the knockout phase.

Trailing 2-0 after just 13 minutes to a double from Brazilian striker Alan, Celtic were staring embarrassment in the face against group winners Salzburg. Stefan Johansen’s riposte before half-time restored a sense of respectability but Naby Keita’s stoppage-time goal brought the evening to a chastening end.

Many among the home support would still have been trying to digest Deila’s eyebrow-raising team selection by the time Salzburg had raced into their early 2-0 lead with alarming ease.

Certainly, few would have predicted Leigh Griffiths would be chosen to lead the line for Celtic. The striker was handed his first starting appearance since August, a decision by

Deila which spoke volumes of £2.2 million signing Stefan Scepovic’s struggles to make a positive impact at the club.

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Scepovic was joined on the substitutes’ bench by Kris Commons and James Forrest, with Callum McGregor and Johansen given the supporting roles behind Griffiths as Deila favoured running power over flair in those positions.

But, if the Norwegian had hoped it would help his team match the pressing tactics and dynamism of the visitors, he was left to think again by Salzburg’s high-octane start to the contest. Frankly, Celtic could consider themselves fortunate only to concede twice in a torrid opening 25 minutes.

There was a touch of fortune about the visitors’ opener in the eighth minute, although it was also attributable to Celtic’s inability to cope with the pace and movement of their opponents, who were determined to play on the front foot. Massimo Bruno cut in from the left to work a shooting position from around 20 yards and his effort deflected off Charlie Mulgrew. The ball spun kindly into the path of Alan who was left with the fairly simple task of slotting it beyond Craig Gordon from close range.

Celtic were visibly rattled and needed Gordon to make a sharp save to keep out Martin Hinteregger’s close-range header from a Jonatan Soriano free-kick as Salzburg went for the jugular. But the second goal was only delayed until the 13th minute.

The home team’s defending left much to be desired when Kevin Kampl floated over a corner from the right. Salzburg central defender Andre Ramalho was able to flick it on to the unattended Alan who again made no mistake with a firm finish beyond Gordon from a couple of yards out.

Celtic had a half-hearted appeal for a penalty turned down when McGregor went down under Hinteregger’s challenge but it was Salzburg who continued to dominate. Gordon was soon called into action again, getting down low to his right to keep out Peter Ankersen’s effort from around 20 yards.

Gordon’s net bulged again in the 22nd minute but on this occasion a fine exhibition of Soriano’s technical ability was wasted by the Salzburg captain who, despite clear direction from the referee that a free-kick was indirect, curled the ball directly on target.

Mercifully for Celtic, the Salzburg onslaught gradually abated and the complexion of the contest was altered dramatically when Deila’s men pulled a goal back with their first cohesive attacking move of the evening in the 30th minute.

Emilio Izaguirre stretched the Salzburg defence with a powerful surge down the left and his low cross picked out a well-timed run into the penalty area from Johansen, who neatly drilled a shot beyond the right hand of goalkeeper Peter Gulacsi into the corner of the net.

Celtic sought to gather some momentum at the start of the second half as they managed to secure a greater share of possession. They almost equalised in fortuitous fashion in the 50th minute, a corner from the left by Anthony Stokes smacking off Gulacsi’s crossbar with the keeper scrambling unconvincingly.

News that Dinamo Zagreb had fallen behind to Astra in Romania may have reduced the significance of defeat for Celtic but it made them no less anxious to avoid it as they tried to increase their tempo in the attacking third of the pitch.

Salzburg were now posing a rarer threat of their own, mostly on the counter attack, although Soriano missed a good chance to restore their two-goal advantage when he sliced a shot wide.

Deila made a double substitution in the 67th minute, Commons and Forrest replacing Stokes and McGregor in a reconfigured front four which pushed Johansen out to the left.

Griffiths had toiled for much of the evening to make a telling contribution but he was denied his first European goal for Celtic 13 minutes from time when his close-range header from

Izaguirre’s cross was well saved by Gulacsi.

It was as close as Celtic came to an equaliser and they were undone in the second minute of stoppage time when Keita headed beyond Gordon after the keeper could only parry Marcel Sabitzer’s shot into his path.

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