Chris Sutton was in the Celtic side who came close to holding Bayern Munich in the German club’s own stadium. If it hadn’t been for a mistake by goalkeeper Magnus Hedman, they might well have done.
In fact, Celtic, who took the lead that September evening in 2003 through Alan Thompson, were well placed to win before Roy Makaay’s late double. Even many years later, Sutton can’t disguise a sense of frustration. Maakay’s first was unstoppable, his second, a cross that eluded Hedman, less so.
“While we certainly don’t want to start pointing fingers… it was Magnus Hedman’s fault!” he joked yesterday. At least it was possible he was making a joke. With the straight-talking Sutton, that isn’t always obvious.
But then it’s not as if anyone, even Hedman, can deny the goalkeeper’s mistake with just four minutes left was not central to this defeat in a Champions League tie, months after Celtic lost, in similarly agonising fashion, the Uefa Cup final to Porto.
“We actually played well in the game,” said Sutton, with reference to the defeat in the Olympic stadium, Bayern’s former home. “From memory, I think Alan Thompson scored early in the second half and we felt quite comfortable, even though Roy Makaay scored a good equaliser. And then Magnus, well, let’s not blame him. But he got absolutely hairdryered after the game. I actually felt sorry for him – for about five seconds. Martin O’Neill went at him.
“Our away form was disappointing,” added Sutton. “We lost 1-0 to Anderlecht that season as well. But we played well against Bayern away and did really well at home to them (drawing 0-0).
“The home and away form, the contrast was obscene.” Hedman kept a clean sheet that night at Celtic Park. So is it too harsh to blame him for the earlier defeat?
“Oh, it was his fault,” replied Sutton, who was speaking at a BT Sport event. “In the dressing room afterwards, we all felt sorry for Magnus. But, when he went in the shower, we all blamed him! That’s the sort of thing that happens in football.
“It was a game where we went over to play one of the super clubs and we felt it was achievable to get a result. We all, I suppose, let it slip away, all of us. So it was a huge disappointment. We certainly should have held on for a draw. Our away form was our Achilles’ heel.”
Celtic’s poor away form has continued to be a theme in Europe in the years since. But a convincing victory over Anderlecht in Brussels last month, Celtic’s first for five years at the Champions League group stage, has provided a fillip ahead of such a tough assignment tonight.
The last Scottish side to play a competitive game at the Allianz Arena, where Bayern Munich moved in 2005, were Aberdeen, who went down 5-1 nine years ago.
It’s an intimidating venue, as SC Freiburg found last weekend, losing a Bundesliga fixture 5-0.
While the Bayern of 2003 were able to field stars such as Oliver Kahn, Michael Ballack and Bixente Lizarazu, Sutton believes that the current side are an even tougher proposition.
Or at least they will be for a Celtic side lacking the quality of those melded together by Martin O’Neill.
“I think the gap between this Bayern team and this Celtic team is bigger than it was back then,” said Sutton. “I hear all this talk about crisis at Bayern. When you see their record this season, they’ve played 12, won eight, scored more than 30 goals. Yeah, they got well beaten by PSG, who can do that to most teams.
“But it looks like a player revolt that did it for Carlo Ancelotti. Now they’ve got (Jupp) Heynckes back, the last manager to win the treble at Bayern.
“I watched their game at the weekend and they are a superb outfit, who might end up winning the Champions League.
“That’s how difficult it is for this Celtic team. I think we felt, with our side, we could go and get a result.
“But looking at this Celtic team, comparing it financially to Bayern Munich and comparing the players, it will be extremely tough for Celtic. If you’re a Celtic player going into this game, it’s a bit of what if moment,” continued Sutton.
“What if you can get the result that makes all the difference to your European hopes? They’ll need everyone to play well and Bayern to have an off night. They may also need a bit of luck – and the goalkeeper will need to play well.”
On that subject, Sutton has been a critic of Craig Gordon, one of Hedman’s successors in the No 1 shirt at Celtic.
“It was a funny one, putting (Dorus) De Vries in at the weekend (against Dundee),” noted Sutton, who feels Gordon is not of the required standard to play in the Champions League. But that’s not to say he reckons De Vries is either.
“It may be a bit of a warning shot to Craig that De Vries has come in and done well,” he said.
“But I think the truth is that Craig Gordon will start on Wednesday night, there’s no doubt about that.”
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