There were truly, utterly, bizarre scenes at the close at Celtic Park last night. At least three times before it was actually confirmed, the home fans seemed to proclaim a Leipzig draw with Rosenborg – whose late equaliser caused the crowd to erupt.
That draw kept Celtic in the Europa League just as they had appeared to be spinning out as a result of being skewered by Salzburg.
One man must have felt like cavorting with the crowds even as he seemed to be skippering his side to a humbling defeat, a humbling, yet irrelevant defeat.
What do you do when your side is struggling to keep their heads above water in a vital European tie? The answer was straightforward for Brendan Rodgers after his team endured a helter-skelter first half against Austrian opponents who simply looked to have too much for them. He turned to the Scottish player who has played more games in European football than any other in history – centurion Scott Brown.
The Celtic captain is the only player born within these borders to have racked up 100 games in continental competition. Last night was his 105th in all, and one of his most unusual as it required him to remove his tracksuit in the dressing room at half-time. The 33-year-old had started on the bench – as he had for three of the previous four games.
It had been speculated that the days of Brown – whose contract expires next summer – appearing on major occasions for the club might be drawing to a close, 10½ years on from joining in a £4.4 million deal from Hibernian.
There was a certain air of desperation from Rodgers in Brown being called into action last night. Celtic, despite somehow not having had their goal breached, were being given the runaround by the Austrian champions. Even though they came to Glasgow with qualification secured courtesy of five straighht victories in Group B, their commitment to taking full points from a Europa League group campaign for a record third time was obvious from the intent and menace with which they spooked Celtic from the opening minutes.
The Scottish champions were rushed, ragged at times, entirely lacking in composure. Their hot potato attempts to contruct moves pointed to the absence of a central figure of authority who could bring calm. Precisely what Brown has offered against a certain level of European opponent.
Salzburg, though, despite having consistently failed to make it through the Champions League qualifiers – they have yet to arrive at that promised land despite seven tilts – were a level above the opposition against which Brown, and Celtic, have tended to telling impression.
It was more coincidence than any failing on his part that the two goals that seemed would prove fatal for qualification hopes came in the half in which Brown featured. In reality, the defeat was in the post for Celtic last night from the earliest stages.
Brown acquitted himself well as Rodgers was forced to rejig his midfield twice owing to the skipper’s appearance for the ineffectual Scott Sincliar soon being followed by Ryan Christie being forced off on a stretcher, to be replaced by Olivier Ntcham.
The loss of a second goal led to desperate measures, and Brown ended the evening as a sweeper, making a couple of telling interventions.
The most telling moment, though, came in the 86th minute in Leizpig, when Rosenborg nuttily made it 1-1.
Until then, with speculation that Brown could be tempted by an offer to end his career in Australia, it seemed that we might have been witnessing his last appearance in European competition. Now a last 32 Europa League place beckons for Celtic, and the sun is not yet setting on Brown’s European adventures.