It will not be added to the ledger of famous European victories Celtic have enjoyed on their own patch but Brendan Rodgers’ side produced a result and performance which carried almost as much resonance as some of those glorious triumphs they have enjoyed down the years.
On a remarkable night which saw them harness a stunning atmosphere inside Celtic Park, the Scottish champions found significant atonement for their matchday one 7-0 defeat in Barcelona as they claimed their first point in Group C of the Champions League.
They did so by placing the first blemish of any sort on Pep Guardiola’s record as Manchester City boss, ending the English Premier League leaders’ 100 per cent winning run under their lauded coach.
Celtic led three times on the evening, through Moussa Dembele’s double and a Raheem Sterling own goal, only to be pegged back each time. But it was an evening which saw them reclaim pride and credibility at this level and prove they remain capable of more than just making up the numbers in Europe’s elite tournament.
Celtic could not have delivered more dramatically or impressively on Rodgers’ pre-match pledge they would not be as passive as they were in the Nou Camp 15 days earlier.
The intensity and ambition of their play was in the sharpest possible contrast to the almost meek and accepting manner in which they suffered that club record European defeat against the Spanish champions.
Any notion Manchester City held of being able to settle into the slick passing game which has characterised Guardiola’s outstanding start to his tenure was immediately dispelled as Celtic came flying out of the traps.
Their front foot approach brought its first reward with Dembele’s third minute opener which sent an already pumped up home support into an utter frenzy. The goal came from a brilliantly executed training ground set piece, the free-kick conceded by Nicolas Otamendi’s handball.
Scott Sinclair took it, picking out James Forrest’s clearly rehearsed run on the right of the City penalty area. The winger volleyed a first time cross into the six yard box where Erik Sviatchenko headed towards goal. Dembele, certainly flirting with an offside position but getting the benefit of the doubt from the linesman, applied the finishing touch from close range with his chest.
City were seriously rattled and struggled to find any composure as Celtic maintained a ferocious tempo. The home side threatened to double their lead when Dembele’s close range shot was turned behind by Claudio Bravo, then Tom Rogic was a shot blocked after he was set up by some exceptional work from Sinclair.
With Guardiola an animated presence on the edge of his technical area, City gradually forced themselves higher up the pitch and the first threat to Craig Gordon’s goal saw David Silva’s shot deflected wide for a corner in the 11th minute.
It was a set piece Celtic were unable to clear effectively and from the subsequent follow-up pressure, City grabbed their first equaliser. Aleksandar Kolarov’s shot was not cleanly struck but the ball broke kindly for the visitors, Fernandinho stepping onto it and guiding a precise low shot beyond Gordon’s left hand.
Celtic’s response was an unrelenting commitment to aggressive, high pressing tactics which quickly had City on the back foot once more. The English side’s reaction to being hassled so mercilessly out of their cultured stride was manifested in a rash moment from Sterling who was fortunate referee Nicola Rizzoli did not spot his juvenile off the ball kick at the calf of Celtic captain Scott Brown.
Sterling had further cause for frustration when Celtic went 2-1 ahead in the 20th minute. Rogic’s perfectly weighted pass found Kieran Tierney who had made a surging run down the left. The young full-back’s angled shot took a deflection off Sterling and beat Bravo at his near post.
But Celtic’s lead barely lasted any longer this time. City, now enjoying a greater share of possession and territorial progress, levelled again eight minutes later. It was a redemptive moment for Sterling who displayed great poise and precision to beat Gordon from around 14 yards, Silva having engineered the chance after nicking the ball off Brown.
Celtic came closest to scoring again before the interval, Mikael Lustig heading over from Rogic’s corner, and it said everything about the breathless nature of the first half that no stoppage time was added.
There was certainly no time to pause for reflection when play resumed as Celtic went ahead for the third time just 28 seconds after the restart. Tierney, looking very much at home at this level, foraged down the left again and when his cross was missed by Kolarov, the ball fell to Dembele who improvised brilliantly to hook a shot over his shoulder and high into the net.
City were back to square one again but were in no mood to let their unbeaten start to the season go lightly. Gordon made a smart save to deny Nolito who then saw another shot blocked by Lustig as City picked up the pace of their own attacking play.
Gordon was forced into a terrific save when he got down low to keep out Ilkay Gundogan’s free-kick but could do little to prevent City’s third leveller of the evening. The ‘keeper did well to parry Sergio Aguero’s close range shot but the ball broke for Nolito to slide it into the unguarded net.