Why Celtic can take positives to Midtjylland - but act of brainlessness could be so costly
Instead, there were more pluses than minuses in the 1-1 draw with FC Midtjylland that will allow Postecoglou and his men to live another day in the competition. That day, of course, next Wednesday’s return leg that they approach with hope.
The monster minus, in among real credits for Celtic’s battling and some bright passages, came in the form of the incomprehensible brainlessness that led Nir Bitton to bring a red card entirely upon himself just before the interval.
Postecoglou did not enjoy the desired outcome, or the deserved outcome. A goal on his debut from £3.5million winger Liel Abada just before Bitton’s act of self-harm offered more promise than was ultimately delivered, with an Evander's free-kick in the 72nd minute tying the scoreline. But Celtic looked the more accomplished side than their visitors, who themselves were reduced to ten men in the 55th minute for Anders Dreyer’s second yellow, his first coming in the altercation ensuing from his attempt to win a penalty that had caused Bitton to lose his mind.
The gloom-mongering for Celtic’s prospects was so acute, many felt that Postecoglou would require to pull off a miracle merely to keep Celtic in the tie by the end of the opening leg. And in one sense, even before a ball was kicked on the Australian’s first outing, he initiated one.
With Abada originally not listed in the club’s Champions League squad, it was only the wildcard option late on Monday night that could place him there. Yet, asked about the possibility of using such an option for any player on the eve of the tie, the Celtic manager said he would require a “miracle card” for any player to be added.
As expected, the new Celtic manager otherwise filled his starting places with as many faces as were available to him. The surprise was the team composition wasn’t all that felt belonging to an earlier age at the stadium on the night. The 9,000 supporters allowed in the arena with the relaxation of coronavirus restriction fair made a mighty din in the lead-up to kick-off. The gusto with which they delivered a rendition of You’ll Never Walk Alone that was dedicated to the selfless actions of key workers during the pandemic entirely belied the fact that almost six-seventh of the stadium’s seats remained empty.
There was certainly an emptiness about the football – if you dare call it that – produced by two teams in the grip of difficult transitions under new management. It was all about bodies thumping into one another and the ball being hoofed skywards with eye-watering regularity early on.
Celtic were the team that actually found a way to play the ball and not their opponents and key to that was the energised and driven figure of Ryan Christie. Midway through the period, the attacker threw himself at a right-wing cross from the impressive Abada and clipped an effort on to the post before then heading just wide when provided the same service moments later.
Something was stirring within Celtic. And their growing menace produced the desired outcome in the 40th minute with Christie the creator. He drifted off the left and chopped a shot towards goal that resulted in keeper Jonas Lossl doing not more than slapping the ball into the path of Abada, who slammed it past him in a blur.
Everything looked so good for Postecoglou and Celtic at that juncture. Then Bitton, booked in the 38th minute, altered the entire complexion with an act of such rank stupidity.
Dreyer dropped to the ground in the penalty box after initiating contact with the centre-back, his attempt to win a penalty not bought by Swiss referee Sandro Schärer. They did, though, cause the Israeli to take leave of his senses as he went at it with the winger in a state of apoplexy, wagging his finger before jabbing it towards him and catching his face in the process. The contact was minimal – even if Dreyer dropped down as if mortally wounded – but there was only one course of action open to the official, with Bitton shown a second yellow and banished.
Dreyer, for his part, received a caution which would quickly prove equally significant with the forward suffering the same fate as Bitton only ten minutes into the second period after Schärer decided he couldn’t tolerate another act of simulation.
It seemed the break that would allow Celtic to go again, following the earlier need to withdraw Abada and replacing him with debutant centre-back Dane Murray. And they did with new captain Callum McGregor shaving the bar with a stinging effort before Odsonne Edouard came close as Postecoglou’s men began to open up the Midtjylland backline in which former Celtic defender Erik Sviatchenko was deployed.
It just seems fated that the course of his early days aren’t destined to run smooth for the new Celtic manager, though, and so it proved with the gunk of an equaliser that was ill-deserved by Bo Henriksen’s, frankly, lumpen side. Stephen Welsh, a commanding performer, seemed harshly dealt with when adjudged to have taken ball and man following a forceful challenge on Evander in the 72nd minute. The Brazilain capitalised with a fizzing free-kick that found the net off the far post. Questions will be asked of Vasilis Barkas half-push towards the ball as it whizzed beyond him. Yet, on the evidence of the 90-plus minutes, whatever damage the goal did need not be fatal to hope of progress next week in Denmark.