A wonder strike from Mykhailo Mudryk after 58 minutes means next week’s trip to play Real Madrid at a renovated Bernabeu will essentially be a sightseeing one.
Spectators were treated to one of the goals of this century at Parkhead and also one of the misses. Shakhtar substitute Danylo Sikan spent much of his cameo wandering around with his head in his hands as he relived the moment that might – and probably should – have meant an eighth successive home Champions League defeat for Celtic. At the same end as Peter Van Vossen’s howler for Rangers here in 1996, Sikan somehow sidefooted past the post after being given an open goal to aim at after more fine work by Mudryk.
Celtic had their own how-did-he-miss-that moment, although in fairness to Kyogo Furuhashi he still had a goalkeeper to beat after he was played in by Giorgos Giakoumakis, scorer of Celtic’s opener. The Japanese striker lacked the killer finish and Anatoliy Trubin was able to block.
Celtic have hardly disgraced themselves in this Champions League campaign. Indeed, there has been much to commend them, particularly their expansive approach. Coach Harry Kewell has dubbed it “rock ‘n’ roll football”. There was flashes of it here. Just not enough. Many home fans stayed to applaud their team off the park. Notably, they also hailed Shakhtar Donetsk. The visitors' achievement in maintaining their European hopes beyond Christmas must be acknowledged on a day when seven citizens were killed by Russian bombs in the Donetsk oblast region.
Football must know its place. Celtic fans appreciate that as well as anyone. Nevertheless, they came here with the hope of seeing their team secure the win required to keep their European flame flickering.
When there’s little left to lose why not just throw the kitchen sink at it? That seemed to be manager Ange Postecolgou’s take on an admittedly desperate situation. And who can blame him? Kyogo and Giakoumakis started for only the second time together in a fluid formation that would sometimes become 4-2-4. The Celtic way indeed. But it was rarely ragged. Some caution was applied. Celtic knew they could ill afford to concede. Things were going well on that front until a blond magician decided to have a say. Mudryk is the sort of player who can make the difference at this rarefied level and that’s exactly what he did here.
Postecolgou was dismissive of the “theatre” of VAR after the win over Hearts on Saturday but this form of entertainment for the masses is more to his liking. This is the kind of theatre Celtic excel in. The lights went down and the first bars of You’ll Never Walk Alone trembled over the Tannoy. The reception greeting the Champions League anthem felt more intense than ever. Clearly, the home fans wanted to savour it one last time. Who knows when they will hear it again at Parkhead?
This, though, was another reminder of the step up in class at this level. The visitors’ comfort in possession often contrasted with Celtic’s often hurried, untidy treatment of the ball. Josip Juranovic was sloppy in possession in midfield and coughed up an early opening for Shakhtar.
While Celtic started brightly, they were certainly not looking capable of blowing the opposition away. A long-range effort from Giakoumakis that sailed over the bar after seven minutes was as close as they came in these opening stages. Greg Taylor popped up on the right to send in a dangerous cross that was headed behind for a corner. Missing chances has been Celtic’s Achilles heel in this season’s Champions League campaign. Here they were barely creating them.
But one straightforward opening is worth a flurry of half-chances. And that’s what came the home side’s way after 33 minutes. Sead Haksabanovic made good progress down the left and managed to put a good delivery into the box. Liel Abada sought to pounce in the goalmouth but his effort struck Shakhtar defender Mykola Matviyenko. The ball squirted loose and Giakoumakis was on hand to sweep home with his left foot.
It had not always been pulsating, up-and-at-‘em football from Celtic, but it didn’t have to be as long as they could take advantage of the chance when it did come their way. On this occasion they did. Over 50,000 Celtic fans started to dream. Giakoumakis, his blood up, tested the ‘keeper from far further out shortly afterwards and forced Trubin into a flying, finger-tipped save.
But the tie remained on a knife edge. Shakhtar’s quality- and in particular the quality of No 10 Mudryk – is not in question. A Mudryk break ten minutes into the second half ended with Oleksandr Zubkov sending a shot into the side-netting. He will know he should have done better.
Shakhar almost immediately made a change. Lone forward Lassina Traore was replaced by Sikan, who might have wished he had remained on the bench. The visitors were level two minutes later.
Postecolgou was preparing to make three substitutions of his own – Aaron Mooy, Daizen Maeda and James Forrest were all readying themselves on the touchline. But before they could come on Mudryk had altered the mood significantly.
At least Sikan could claim an assist before his horror moment. He pushed a ball towards his teammate but Mudryk – who took possession just inside the Celtic half – still had it all to do. He ran and, well, kept on running. Juranovic might regret backing off but Mudryk seemed intent on only one outcome – scoring. He cut inside and lashed a shot beyond Hart before running to the corner where a few hundred Ukrainians, many of them gifted tickets by Celtic, were gathered. It was the goal to end Celtic’s European aspirations.