Sion 3 - 1 Celtic: Daniel Majstorovic red sees Celtic’s tie gone in 60 seconds
They have suffered far more comprehensive and embarrassing defeats in the course of the 23 losses their last 30 encounters on foreign soil have yielded. Never, however, has their fate been sealed inside only 44 seconds. That was the case last night as their prospects of reaching the Europa League group stages were as good as ended when Daniel Majstorovic condemned Celtic to the mother and father of disastrous starts.
Beaten for pace by Guilherme Alfonso as the pair chased a simple ball over the top, the Sion striker was 12 yards out and plumb in front of the goal when the Swede crunched into a tackle he was never making. As a result he took most of the man and a fraction of the ball. It was the ultimate no-brainer for referee David Borbalan to point at the spot and then brandish a red card for the centre-back.
All that was then required for another sorry foreign tale to begin unfolding was one-time Celtic trialist Pascal Feindouno showing his opponents how you take a penalty by chipping past Fraser Foster almost contemptuously. A second from the same player just after an hour was salt rubbing, and the wound was an open one for the Celtic travelling support by full-time of a 3-1 win.
Having watched the brief hope a Charlie Mulgrew free-kick strike had given them quickly removed by a home third, they called for the head of club chief executive Peter Lawwell, not in attendance, and launched a tirade against the Celtic players as they sheepishly sought to acknowledge them.
Lawwell maybe was otherwise engaged ensuring that the Court of Sporting Arbitration in Lausanne, not to far from Sion, arrive at the right judgement as far as Celtic are concerned over Fifa’s ruling that the Swiss club have been fielding ineligible players, the side having played signings made in the wake of their ban on such transfer activity in the past year. Sion do appear to have been in clear breach and all Celtic can do is hope the ruling next week reflects the specifics of the case.
It would be a cringeworthy way to earn a Europa League group place, mind. On the night it was never likely through on-field exertions.
Manager Neil Lennon made big decisions with his team selection but their significance was diminished because of Majstorovic’s red card. His starting XI was one precious few would have predicted. It was no surprise that he went with Beram Kayal, Gary Hooper, Kelvin Wilson and Charlie Mulgrew after they were deemed fit enough for inclusion despite major injury doubts. What was unexpected was that the return of Kayal, Hooper and Wilson, on the back of their absences following faltering performances, meant high-profile casualties in the form of top scorer Anthony Stokes and Kris Commons.
Irishman Stokes made way because Lennon elected to partner Hooper with Georgios Samaras. It was a decision that probably outraged a Celtic support who had made the Greek the scapegoat for the scoreless first leg in Glasgow. The changes did not end there. There were five in total from the scarcely-credible home defeat to St Johnstone on Sunday. Cha Du-Ri was restored after dropping out, while starters in that encounter Shaun Maloney and Victor Wanyama didn’t even make the 18-man squad. The Kenyan, reported to have said his team-mates were undermined as the Celtic Park crowd turned on them at the weekend would not have had to worry about a repeat last night with the 8,800-capacity Stade de Tourbillion not even full, although still noisy enough.
Lennon might have been better served by retaining the youngster than the lumbering Majstorovic. Inevitably, Celtic were sent into a blind panic as they were forced to rejig after his banishment. Mulgrew moved to the heart of the defence with Joe Ledley filling the left back berth he vacated.
A second for Sion seemed a certainty for a ten- minute spell. Only wastefulness from the home forward line now shorn of an Alfonso – forced off in favour of Aleksandar Prijovic by the Majstorovic challenge – spared Lennon’s side. Gradually, Celtic did regain some degree of composure and did threaten the odd opening, Cha’s touch letting him down when sent in on goal down the right channel by a fine diagonal pass by Ki Sung-Yeung. They never built any real momentum leading up to half-time, however, as the encounter developed into a niggly scrap. The period was only illuminated by Foster and his Sion counterpart Andris Vanins trading saves in beating away free-kicks from distances struck by Dingsdag and Mulgrew.
Within ten minutes of the restart, Celtic should have been put out of their misery. Looking very much a man light, Ki, who had twice squandered promising breaks, made it three ghastly interventions when he passed straight to Giovanni Sio on the edge of his own box. Sio fed Prijovic, who let fly with a fierce drive that Foster knocked on to the upright without knowing too much about it. The Celtic keeper then reacted sharply to pluck the ball from the feet of Sio who seemed certain to score.
Sion’s tie-ending second came only minutes later, however. A free-kick needlessly given away by Ki was played short to Feindouno and brought a shot that Kayal charged down. The ball broke back to the Portuguese playmaker who feinted one way and another before finding the net with a left-foot shot. Token resistance came when Mulgrew squeezed a free-kick under the defensive wall 13 minutes from time but any hope of an unlikely comeback was snuffed out five minutes later when Ki was caught in possession by Sio, who ran 30 yards before applying a finish to a game that Celtic never really started.
Sion: Vanins; Vanczak, Dingsdag, Adailton; Mutsch, Obradovic (Crettenand 68), Serey Die, Buhler; Feindouno; Sio, Afonso (Prijovic 7)(Rodrigo 83). Subs: Fickentscher, Goncalves, Mrdja, Keteophomphone.
Celtic: Foster; Cha, K Wilson, Majostorovic, Mulgrew; Brown, Kayal (Forrest 72), Ki, Ledley (Commons 88); Samaras, Hooper. Subs: Zaluska, Matthews, Stokes, Commons, McCourt, M Wilson.