A year ago yesterday Celtic slipped to an inglorious defeat against Molde in the Europa League.
It was a night when harsh reality hit home amid in-fighting and bitter recrimination. The result didn’t sit well with anybody involved with the club and seemed to signal the beginning of the end for then manager Ronny Deila, who was involved in a spat with Kris Commons after substituting the player.
So while Celtic marked the eve of this anniversary with another defeat on Wednesday night, few comparisons could be drawn with that rain-sodden night in Norway.
Unlike Molde, Borussia Monchengladbach could give the cream of European football a game – and indeed already have. In terms of Brendan Rodgers’ job security, defeat to the slick Germans will have little impact.
There was certainly no disgrace in Celtic’s loss on Wednesday night in Europe’s premier club competition, even if there was a sense of frustration at their having had a hand in the defeat themselves.
Two mistakes from Kolo Toure, Celtic’s most experienced player, led to the visitors’ two goals. But few could claim they were ill deserved or had not been coming from early in the game.
But as skipper Scott Brown stressed yesterday, there’s no point qualifying for the group stage of the Champions League if you are not prepared to learn. Borussia produced a masterclass of an away performance. Indeed, Celtic could do worse than take some pointers from it ahead of the return at the Borussia-Park on 1 November.
“After the Man City result everyone fancied us to go and beat Borussia Monchengladbach 2 or 3-0 but it was never going to be that way, especially if people had watched their games and seen the way they keep the ball,” said Brown. “I think in the last couple of games they have had something like 70 per cent possession, so it was always going to be hard to play against.
“They are a top-quality team. Watching their movement and the way they passed the ball and closed down, it’s what we need to learn to become a top-quality team.
“They are top-quality, a proper team. They work hard for each other and if someone is out of position they are filling it in. They have midfielders running in behind centre halves, they have strikers dropping deep into the midfield hole. They caused Barcelona problems so it was always going to be hard but yet again, we created a couple of chances. If we scored early doors it might have changed the game.”
Now Celtic must figure out how to earn points from away trips to Borussia Monchengladbach and Manchester City and a home assignment with Barcelona. “Nice and easy!” said Brown. “Everyone knew as soon as the group was announced it was always going to be hard.
“But that’s why we are in the Champions League. We have to compete and we have managed to compete with Manchester City at home. Now we need to do that away from home as well as we can.”
Brown was trying his best to ignore a pitiful recent away record in Europe.
“We have a new man in charge,” he noted, with reference to Rodgers.
If the hope is that this new man can lead to a change of luck abroad, this hasn’t happened yet. Last month’s 7-0 defeat in the Nou Camp followed a draw against Astana and bad defeats to Hapoel Beer-Sheva and Gibraltar’s Lincoln Red Imps, of all teams.
“It’s always been hard going away in European games for us but here’s hoping we can do a lot better this season,” said Brown.
“Yes there’s been a lot of progress. But for us to progress further we need to learn from the three teams we are playing against: their movement, shape, their style of play and that’s what we need to try and build up to.”
Before they can consider going again against Borussia Monchengladbach, Celtic have the little matter of a League Cup semi-final against Rangers this weekend. Brown backed Toure to recover from his mishaps in midweek and be back to his best on Sunday.
“He has been fantastic,” he said. “He is a proper leader on and off the park. He is a great guy. Mistakes happen, especially when the manager wants us to play from the back.
“The thing about Kolo is that he still goes and takes the ball after he makes a mistake or two. The difference is I make 10, 12 mistakes in a game and he makes one and it costs us. It’s one of those things. It’s hard but he is a great character and a great lad. And he has been great so far this season and he will be great the rest of the season as well.”
Toure described his performance as a “35-year-old defending like a 16-year-old”. Brown, while declining to relay what the centre-half said to his team-mates, pointed out it was a mark of the man to be so upfront about his failings.
“What happens in that dressing room stays in the dressing room so you will not get anything out of us about that,” said Brown.
“But what he says to the press it is up to him; most people probably would not have said anything to the press. They would have gone and hid. But he’s a big, honest character who lives for the game.”