Celtic show recurring rise and familiar fall in Seville after another narrow away defeat for Ange Postecoglou

The fizz, and then the fizzle, before a smidgen of fizz again. What unfolded for Celtic in their 4-3 defeat by Real Betis was a spirit-sapping rise and fall – save for a late flurry – that may well prove a familiar story across the endeavours for Ange Postecoglou’s men in Europa League group stages this season, particularly away from home.

Celtic's Croatian midfielder Josip Juranovic (C) celebrates after scoring during the UEFA Europa League football match between Real Betis and Celtic FC at the Benito Villamarin stadium in Seville on September 16, 2021. (Photo by JORGE GUERRERO/AFP via Getty Images)

To begin their Group G campaign with such glimpses of glory, before exhibiting fatal flaws, made the encounter a difficult one from which it is difficult to draw any great hard and fast conclusions. Whether that was a seriously-depleted Celtic – in stunning fashion – storming to a two-goal lead inide 27 minutes in Seville, or them being utterly becalmed with Real Betis, almost casually, knocking off four goals in reply, across little more than 21 minutes of actual playing time. All that before, late on, pulling themselves off the canvas, with an Anthony Ralston headed goal from a flighted-in David Turnbull free-kick in the 86th minute causing the home side to betray the fear.

What requires to be acknowledged is that Postecoglou has now lost, all by a single goal, five of his six away games at the Celtic helm. It is his team’s very openness that could allow them to score three goals in an environment as testing as the Estadio Benito Villamarín - on an evening in which they had 16 goal attempts - but also prove so porous subsequently. You can’t have one without the other in the Postecolgou game-plan. And, even after another gunk of an outcome, Celtic supporters will still be signed up to the strategy he is determined to pursue.

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It is natural to wonder what might have ensued had Jota, excellent on the evening, not failed to net when in on goal and with the opportunity to make it 3-0 to the visitors just before Betis began their comeback. Likewise, with Tom Rogic thumping the base of the post midway through the second period, as Celtic stablised following the four-goal salvo from Manuel Pellegrini’s men. Yet, it should not be overlooked that Joe Hart required to make two superb saves early on, either, or that the centre-back pairing of Cameron Carter-Vickers and Carl Starfelt were found wanting, as they were regularly found exposed when Betis realised they were in a game.

SEVILLE, SPAIN - SEPTEMBER 16: Albian Ajeti of Celtic reacts after their side concedes a fourth goal scored by Juanmi of Real Betis (not pictured) during the UEFA Europa League group G match between Real Betis and Celtic FC at Estadio Benito Villamarin on September 16, 2021 in Seville, Spain. (Photo by Fran Santiago/Getty Images)

No-one expected that turn of events that resulted from Albian Ajeti netting his third goal in two games when he forced in with his chest 13 minutes in following a sctinillating move involving Rogic and Turnbull that allowed the Swiss to turn in a inch-perfect Jota cross from the right. It was a goal initially ruled out, but given after a lengthy VAR review. When Ajeti hurdled a wild challenge from keeper Claudio Bravo leading with his feet to win a penalty approaching the half hour, the penalty conversion from Josip Juranovic seemed beyond Postecoglou’s wildest imagination.

For the constant churn of players under him was reflected not only in the line-up he was forced to field, but its barely passing resemblance to the starting XI he selected only seven weeks ao as they exited the Champions League qualifiers in Midtjylland.

Incredibly only three starters remained from that loss in the form of Ismaila Soro, Ralston and Turnbull. Certainly, the enforced absences in Seville of captain Callum McGregor, Kyogo Furuhashi - who only joined six weeks ago - Greg Taylor, James Forrest, and, through religious reasons, Liel Abada, forced the Celtic manaager’s hand in a number of areas, but the extensive line-up changes more reflected the number of new players he has been required to integrate into his set-up.

Juranovic, Carter-Vickers and Jota were making their European debuts for the Parkhead side, and, with no Taylor, Croatian right-back Juranovic was once again deployed on the left of the back four.

Juanmi of Real Betis scores their side's second goal during the UEFA Europa League group G match between Real Betis and Celtic FC at Estadio Benito Villamarin on September 16, 2021 in Seville, Spain. (Photo by Fran Santiago/Getty Images)

The patchwork nature of the team meant Celtic were encumbered with precious little expectation. All the talk of the 2003 UEFA Cup final in Seville, and the chronicling of the club’s inability to win in a 90-minute game on Spanish soil over 19 attempts, was certainly intriguing preview fodder. For all that Postecoglou spoke in hopeful tones of creating new European memories, there was no belief that a landmark success would be claimed.

The reason why were shown with Betis netting twice between the 32nd and 34th minute, initially too easily cut open by Miranda, who played a one-two to cut through the middle of their defence before slotting in. The equaliser was the product of Carton-Vickers playing Juanmi onside as ball was sent down the right to Borja Iglesias, who squared for the forward to roll in.

The crumble seemed set when, in the 50th minute, Sergio Canales had acres of space down the Celtic right to fashion a cross that Iglesias nipped between Starfelt and Starfelt at the near post to poke in. The marking, the closing down ws then missing when a headed clearance was pounced on by Juanmi, who clubbed it towards goal from 12 yards, his low effort beating Hart in-off his right-hand post.

At that point, it looked like the night could get wholly messy. The fact it didn’t illustrated that, whatever Celtic’s shortcomings, they do not lack gumption or a willingness to keep to their tasks, keeping driving forward. It didn’t allow them to avoid defeat, but they are very much still a work in progress, and there was sufficient evidence to say that they will progress. If they ever have that luxury of a settled team.

Real Betis: Bravo, Montoya, González, Miranda (Álex Moreno 69'), Ruiz, Canales (Rober 82'), Juanmi, Joaquín (Ruibal 54'), Nabil Fekir (Rodríguez 68'), Andrés Guardado (William Carvalho 69'), Iglesias. Subs: Pezzella, Sánchez, William Carvalho, Bellerín, Rui Silva, Ruibal, Álex Moreno, Tello, Willian José, Rober, Akouokou

Celtic: Hart; Ralston, Carter-Vickers, Starfelt, Juranovic; Rogic, Soro (McCarthy 56); Turnbull: Jota, Ajeti, Montgomery. Subs: Barkas, Scales, Urhoghide, Bain, Shaw, Murray, Henderson, Welsh.

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