For only the third time in 26 attempts, the Scottish champions avoided defeat away from home in the group stage of the tournament. As one of the building blocks Rodgers is seeking to lay as the foundations for regular participation in the latter stages of Europe’s elite tournament, it was a
Dembele’s 16th goal of the season came after he was hauled down by Borussia defender Julian Korb, who received a straight red card for his troubles. Celtic, who were fortunate only to be trailing 1-0 to Lars Stindl’s first-half strike at that stage, had salvaged their hopes of further progress in Europe this season.
They will require what will still be widely regarded as an unlikely sequence of results from their final two games at home to Barcelona and away to Manchester City, but this was a resilient display from which Rodgers can take
The early signs were not especially encouraging for Celtic as Borussia appeared capable of simply taking up where they had left off in Glasgow two weeks ago in terms of their superiority in possession. The initial exchanges certainly presented a significant test for Celtic’s makeshift back four in which Cristian Gamboa, drafted in at right-back with Mikael Lustig required in central defence to replace the unfit Jozo Simunovic, looking vulnerable and uncomfortable.
The closest Borussia came to making their early pressure count was when Jannik Vestergaard saw his header deflected wide after latching onto Thorgan Hazard’s corner kick, one of several forced by the hosts as Celtic found themselves firmly on the back foot.
Hazard, the younger brother of Chelsea and Belgium star Eden, was making his return from a month-long injury lay-off and it was quickly apparent he shares many of the technical gifts bestowed upon his more renowned sibling.
He was involved in most of Borussia’s most eye-catching moments in the opening period, including a brilliantly disguised pass which carved out a clear sight of goal for Tobias Strobl at the end of a sweeping move. Craig Gordon came to Celtic’s rescue on that occasion, making an excellent blocking save.
Celtic gradually managed to draw much of the sting out of Borussia’s attacking efforts and started to enjoy some decent spells of controlled possession of their own. It would have been stretching a point to suggest they were taking the initiative but they did come agonisingly close to taking the lead in the 24th minute.
Gamboa, for all of his defensive uncertainty, lacked nothing in his willingness to try to get forward whenever possible. The Costa Rican surged down the right before delivering a scuffed cross which found its way beyond a flat-footed Borussia back four into the path of Scott Sinclair.
The winger curled a delightful right-foot shot from the edge of the penalty area which had the beating of Yann Sommer all ends up. The Borussia goalkeeper could only look in with relief as the ball struck the inside of his left-hand post and rebounded to safety.
Suddenly, it was a far more evenly contested affair in which Celtic carried a far greater air of purpose and confidence in their work. But just as it seemed it was Borussia who now had more problems to solve, they claimed the opening goal.
Hazard found space on the right-hand side of Celtic’s penalty area and eluded Emilio Izaguirre’s attention with almost contemptuous ease. His cross picked out Stindl who steered a first-time, right-foot shot beyond Gordon from around 12 yards.
It was a dispiriting moment for the visitors who found themselves facing an all-too- familiar scenario on their European travels. Their most threatening attempt at finding a positive response before the interval came when Stuart Armstrong, preferred to Nir Bitton as he made his first Champions League starting appearance, shot over from distance.
Borussia increased the tempo of their play at the start of the second half. Stindl had a premium opportunity to score again when he was played in by Andre Hahn’s clever pass but his failure to connect cleanly with the shot allowed Gordon to make a simple save. Fabian Johnson then saw a shot deflected narrowly wide of Gordon’s left-hand post.
Celtic were hanging on grimly at this stage and only the frame of Gordon’s goal kept them in contention when a shot by Hahn smacked back off the left-hand upright. Having ridden their luck, Celtic began to threaten on the counter-attack and Dembele forced Sommer into his first telling save of the night after good work by Sinclair. Celtic’s top scorer had seen little of the ball but he became the central figure when Rodgers’ men drew level with 14 minutes left.
A brilliant backheel pass by Scott Brown allowed substitute Patrick Roberts to find Dembele on the left of the penalty area. Despite being clearly fouled by Korb, Dembele managed to get away his shot which went just wide. Portuguese referee Manuel De Sousa pulled the play back, awarding Celtic the spot-kick and dismissing Korb. Dembele, who failed to convert a penalty in Celtic’s previous away game in the group against Barcelona, made no mistake this time as he coolly sent Sommer the wrong way. Both sides had chances to grab a winner, Callum McGregor wasting the best of them for Celtic with three minutes remaining when he shanked a shot wide from close range. But it was a point well made for Rodgers and his players nonetheless.