The fresh hope Brendan Rodgers had nurtured of further European progress for Celtic was brutally undermined by familiar old failings on a bitterly anticlimactic night in Russia.
The roof of the Krestovsky Stadium may have been closed to keep out a temperature of -13 in St Petersburg but there was no escape from the chill of an emphatic defeat for the Scottish champions as they were unceremoniously dumped out of the Europa League.
Not for the first time on foreign soil, Celtic were the architects of their own downfall as they committed basic collective errors and made avoidable individual mistakes to assist Zenit’s recovery from their 1-0 loss in Glasgow seven days earlier.
First half goals from former Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic - on his 34th birthday - and Daler Kuzyaev put Roberto Mancini’s side in control before Aleksandr Kokorin effectively ended any Celtic hopes of a comeback midway through the second period.
It added up to a seventh defeat in 13 away matches in Europe for Rodgers as Celtic manager and indicates he still has much to do in order to effect the kind of consistent improvement at this level he has set out to achieve at the club.
All of the good work Celtic had produced in what Rodgers regarded as a ‘near-perfect’ performance in the first leg was negated by the calamitous defending which allowed Zenit to wipe out their 1-0 deficit before half an hour had passed.
While the Scottish champions enjoyed all the possession they could have wished for, it troubled Zenit not one bit in a first half in which home goalkeeper Andrei Lunev was not called into action at all.
Mancini’s men were content to allow Celtic to pass the ball among themselves in and around the centre of the pitch before breaking with pace and directness whenever the opportunity arose.
The opening goal came as a consequence of a corner conceded by de Vries as he scrambled to his left to turn behind a 20-yard shot from Leandro Paredes. The Argentinian midfielder took the kick himself and Celtic tied themselves in knots trying to deal with it.
Ivanovic was allowed a free header which he powered beyond de Vries, leaving the recriminations to begin as both Mikael Lustig and Jozo Simunovic berated Kristoffer Ajer, suggesting the young Norwegian should have been picking up the run of the goalscorer.
The pattern remained the same, Celtic seeing plenty of the ball without having any penetration in the attacking third of the pitch. Zenit continued to create openings with their more direct style and Kokorin should have done better when he was sprung clear, sending a tame shot into the grasp of de Vries.
Paredes was at the hub of most of Zenit’s most positive work, although he was overly ambitious with a free-kick from all of 30 yards which sailed over.
But the home side proved it wasn’t really such folly to try and test de Vries with efforts from distance when they made it 2-0 in the 27th minute. There appeared little danger when Kuzyaev cut in from the left but his right foot shot from around 25 yards left de Vries looking foolish, the Dutch veteran completely mis-reading the flight of the ball as it flew beyond him into the back of the net.
Spanish referee Antonio Lahoz, a man clearly happy to attract as much attention to himself as possible, was liberal with his distribution of bookings as Kuzyaev and Paredes for Zenit and the Celtic duo of Eboue Kouassi and Moussa Dembele picked up cautions. The visitors were angered on the half-time whistle when the official kept his card in his pocket when Kuzyaev might easily have collected his second yellow for a late challenge on Kouassi.
It was clear Rodgers could afford to waste little time trying to turn the tide of the tie back in Celtic’s favour and it was no surprise to see Tom Rogic appear at the start of the second half, the Australian playmaker replacing Kouassi.
Rogic immediately showed the kind of attacking ambition Celtic had lacked in the first half, striding forward and firing over a 22 yard shot. James Forrest then burst into significant action for the first time, forcing Celtic’s first corner of the night which Olivier Ntcham floated in for Ajer to head wide.
But just as Rodgers was poised to make his second change in an attempt to build further momentum, Zenit tightened their grip with a third goal. Yet again, Celtic’s defending left much to be desired as Ivanovic’s low cross from the right saw Lustig caught on the wrong side of Kokorin who bundled a close range shot beyond de Vries.
Rodgers made his planned switch, Scott Sinclair replacing Callum McGregor, but the horse had well and truly bolted from Celtic’s perspective as they now needed to score twice to salvage the tie.
Forrest made way for Charly Musonda as Celtic made their final substitution but Zenit saw out the remainder of the contest with a minimum of fuss to book their place in today’s last 16 draw.
ZENIT: Lunev, Ivanovic (Smolnikov 87), Mammana, Mevlja, Criscito; Rigoni (Driussi 84), Paredes, Kranevitter; Kuzyaev, Kokorin, Zabolotny (Erokhin 76). Subs not used: Lodygin, Terentyev, Poloz, Zhirkov.
CELTIC: De Vries, Lustig, Simunovic, Ajer; Forrest (Musonda 71), Kouassi (Rogic 46), Brown, Ntcham, Tierney; McGregor (Sinclair 62); Dembele. Subs not used: Bain, Hendry, Edouard, Miller.