RONNY DEILA will face the first searching examination of his credibility as Celtic manager next week when his team will have to recover from the self-inflicted damage they sustained in Warsaw which leaves their hopes of Champions League progress in serious jeopardy.
Scorers: Radovic, 10, 36 Zyro, 84, Kosecki, 90; Celtic - McGregor, 8
Unable to capitalise on an early away goal from Callum McGregor, which at least provides something of a lifeline in this third qualifying round tie, Celtic were guilty of some utterly wretched defending which saw Efe Ambrose sent off before half-time after Miroslav Radovic’s double had put Legia Warsaw ahead.
It could have been even worse for Deila as Legia captain Ivica Vrdoljak failed to convert two second half penalties, the second one saved by Fraser Forster, either side of Michal Zyro netting a third goal for the Polish champions. But substitute Jakub Kosecki’s stoppage time goal has left Celtic with a daunting task in the second leg at Murrayfield next Wednesday.
It was an evening when Deila began to place his own distinctive mark on the Celtic team he inherited from Neil Lennon and it was far from a positive one. His confidence in his compatriot Jo Inge Berget saw him put the 23-year-old, who made just two senior appearances for Cardiff City last season, straight into his starting line-up at the expense of Leigh Griffiths who dropped to the bench. Berget was deployed on the left of the advanced midfield trio behind central striker Teemu Pukki, the Finn preferred to Anthony Stokes after his two-goal contribution in the second qualifying round win over KR Reykjavik last week.
The surroundings were familiar to Berget who played in this compact but impressively-formed stadium for Molde at the same stage of the Champions League last year, the Norwegian side eliminated on away goals.
But it was Celtic who seized the initiative in that regard on this occasion, courtesy of McGregor’s eighth minute strike which handed them the perfect start. The 21-year-old is certainly intent on making the most of the first team opportunity handed to him in the early days of Deila’s tenure.
There were similarities with his goal which earned Celtic victory in Iceland in the previous round as the 21-year-old collected a pass from Pukki and cut in from the right. McGregor turned smartly beyond Legia left-back Tomasz Brzyski’s weak challenge and beat goalkeeper Dusan Kuciak with a firm left foot shot from just inside the penalty area.
Celtic, however, were only able to maintain that lead for a further two minutes as they conceded an equaliser with some slack defending. Adam Matthews, something of a surprise selection at left-back ahead of Emilio Izaguirre who was among the substitutes, failed to track Radovic’s run into the right side of the penalty area in pursuit of Michal Zyro’s threaded through ball.
The Serbian forward made the most of the space afforded to him, drilling in a low right foot shot which Fraser Forster got close to but could not prevent from finding its way into the far corner of the net.
It was still a scoreline which suited Celtic more than the hosts who were committed to an attacking approach which almost saw them operating a 4-2-4 system at times. With the visitors also keen to maintain a positive strategy in pursuit of more goals, it was an open and absorbing contest.
Kris Commons came close to restoring Celtic’s lead in the 24th minute. Picking the ball up just inside the Legia half, the playmaker embarked on a terrific run, eluding a couple of defenders with clever movement before driving a powerful shot narrowly over the top from 20 yards.
Legia’s response was equally dangerous and it required a well-timed challenge from Virgil van Dijk to block Michal Kucharczyk’s effort on the edge of the penalty area. The ebb and flow continued as Commons produced a delightful through ball at the other end to present Pukki with a decent opportunity but the striker failed to make clean enough contact with his shot which drifted wide of Kuciak’s left hand post.
It was a telling miss for Celtic as they found themselves 2-1 behind in the 36th minute as their night began to turn sour. Again, they were guilty of lacking concentration in defence as Zyro floated in a cross from the right. Kucharczyk was given far too much time to head the ball back across the six-yard box, then Ambrose was painfully slow to react to the danger as Radovic claimed his second goal with a simple close range finish.
Celtic almost grabbed a rapid leveller when Matthews burst down the left and picked out McGregor with a fine cutback, only for the midfielder’s firm low shot to be well saved by Kuciak diving to his right.
The complexion of the game then changed dramatically a minute from the interval with Ambrose’s dismissal. A poor touch from captain Charlie Mulgrew allowed Kucharczyk a free run towards the heart of the Celtic penalty area which was halted by Ambrose’s despairing challenge. Dutch referee Pol van Boekel ruled that Legia had been denied a clear goalscoring opportunity and produced a straight red card for Ambrose.
Although Legia failed to exact further punishment with the free-kick from the edge of the 18 yard box, Deila now had work to do in order to prevent the tie slipping out of Celtic’s control.
He responded by replacing Pukki with Israeli midfielder Beram Kayal at the start of the second half, with Mulgrew dropping back into central defence to fill the gap left by Ambrose. But Celtic should have been 3-1 down just nine minutes after the restart, Zyro missing a glorious chance from close range as Forster raced off his line to make a brave save.
Legia let Celtic off the hook again in the 58th minute with Vrdoljak’s woeful spot-kick failure. It was a clear penalty as Mulgrew tripped Duda inside the box but the Legia captain drove his effort wide of Forster’s left hand post.
Deila made a second change to try and prevent further damage, Izaguirre replacing the largely anonymous Berget. Further damage there was, however, when Zyro headed Radovic’s cross home from close range six minute from time.
In a frenetic finale, Vrdoljak failed from the spot again, this time seeing his kick saved by Forster after Mulgrew had again conceded it with a foul on Kosecki. But Celtic were undone again, perhaps decisively, as the match ticked into stoppage time and they were laid bare at the back once more when Kosecki tapped home from a Lukasz Broz cross.
Legia Warsaw: Kuciak, Broz, Rzezniczak, Astiz, Brzyski; Jodlowiec, Vrdoljak; Zyro (Saganowski 88), Duda, Kucharczyk (Kosecki 75). Subs not used: Jalocha, Junior, Ojamaa, Piech, Pinto.
Celtic: Forster, Lustig, Ambrose, Van Dijk, Matthews; Johansen, Mulgrew; McGregor, Commons (Griffiths 75), Berget (Izaguirre 62); Pukki (Kayal 46). Subs not used: Zaluska, Biton, Stokes, Boerrigter.