The 1-1 draw in the Group F encounter that put the first point on the board for the Scottish champions represents a perfectly acceptable result. Especially for a club that boasts only two wins in their past 20 outings in the competition. However, in terms of how the 90 minutes panned out it could only be wholly unsatisfactory for the Australian and his players. A glut of chances were squandered by Celtic in a one-sided second period wherein the Ukrainians barely crossed into their half. And Postecoglou will be beeling over more than just the fact that his men couldn’t make their domination and their opportunities count. Shakhtar had few real openings of genuine note across the entire evening. Yet, one of the few allowed the jet-heeled Mykhaylo Mudryk - valued at £30m by his club amid recent Arsenal interest - to plunder a 29th minute equaliser on the back of Celtic having stormed into the lead 18 minutes earlier.
Postecoglou’s side lost their way after being pegged back – Joe Hart produced a fine one-handed save then – but they recalibrated impressively following the interval. Only for the goal of the Ukrainians, soon out on their feet, to appear protected by some weird magnetic field. Little else could explain how chance after chance went abegging. Twice Jota wriggled free of a series of markers as if a human eel only to be unable to supply the net-rippling contact despite the goal opening up in front of him. Second half changes that led to Daizen Maeda and Giorgos Giakoumakis entering the fray infused Celtic with new zest but both were guilty of coming up short in the penalty area when a winner seemed inevitable. Five minutes from time the big Greek striker neatly made space for himself in the box to tee up a shot into the top corner, and ended up sending it inches wide. His luck was just as out in added time when he seemed to have bundled the ball in, only for it to be cleared as it dribbled towards the line. An agonising moment that followed Maeda being left with head in hands over knocking past at a vacant back post.
At times, there can be something of the spinning top about Celtic. The vibrancy and blur of movement when going full pelt can be dizzying, and disorientating for opponents. However, as soon as the energy dissipates, so the wobbles come into play that can allow rivals to gain a foothold. So it was in the first period, a drop off rectified following the break. In the lead up to the encounter, Postecoglou had stated it wasn’t enough for his team to have imposed themselves on Real Madrid for 50 minutes in their Group F opener before the concession of the three goals. Celtic’s staying power ultimately couldn’t be questioned in similar fashion a week later, against admittedly far more modest opposition. A different story for their conversion rate, mind you.
Postecoglou’s men began as if wound up to snapping point in the Municipal Stadium in Warsaw. And produced an attacking intensity that threatened to break Shakhtar completely even within a matter of minutes. It was a start that led to the 2,000 strong Celtic contingent in the stands drowning out the Ukrainian exiles in the three-quarters full home of Legia Warsaw the Donetsk club must use as their Champions League base because of the war being waged on their homeland by Russia. It was considered an emotional backdrop to the game for the hosts. The emotions given voice by the Celtic support proved altogether different. On television, chants of ‘F the Queen’ could clearly be heard as an add-on - a standard corruption - of Irish rebel song The Merry Ploughboy. Entirely predictable, republicanism and repudiation of the monarchy – both legitimate – don’t require to preclude a modicum of taste in the week of a sovereign’s death. In that sense, though apologies were made for it on the BT Sport coverage, the banner in the crowd that read ‘F the crown’ was a protest in a fashion that should be understood to fall with democratic norms, even if offensive to many. The very definition of free speech, indeed.
This travelling band were soon turning their attention to the whirlwind endeavours of Postecoglou’s side. Within seconds their intent was signalled when Kyogo Furuhashi pounced on a poor passback and came within a whisker of guiding the ball past keeper Anatoliy Trubin. It was to be the story of the encounter in microcosm with the Shakhtar goal living a charmed existence as a cross was flashed across it by Greg Taylor before Matt O’Riley had a header saved. The fortune couldn’t last for Shakhtar and, in the 11th minute, the breaks favoured Celtic as the deadlock was broken. A crossfield whack from Josip Juranovic didn’t seem intended for Sead Haksabanovic - the Montenegrin making his first start - but it found him on the left flank. He then deftly slipped the ball to Reo Hatate motoring into the box, resulting in the midfielder turning the ball towards goal as Artem Bondarenko slid in to him. A deflection from the underside of the diving body of the Shakhtar man was enough for the ball to creep in at the back post and Celtic seemed firmly on their way.
However, one simple counter-attack halted them in their tracks. Played down the line on the right, Mudryk absolutely burned the speedy Juranovic for pace and, with directness and stunning conviction, the winger showed no hesitation as he lashed high past Hart. It was the sort of emphatic conversion that eluded Celtic all night.