Utrecht 4 - 0 Celtic: Celtic hit new low with desperate defeat
• Giorgios Samaras will have to settle for domestic football with Celtic this season in the wake of last night's defeat. Pic: Getty
FOUR goals, two penalties, eleven headless chickens and one seething captain, deliberately hauled off the field by his manager a mere 51 minutes into another mortifying night in Europe for Celtic. Oh, how they specialise in calamity on the road, this club. They've produced some pearlers in the past, all manner of sorry defeats and gruesome capitulations. But this surely topped the lot. Neil Lennon walked along the touchline for much of the second half and we can only assume that, as he paraded the perimeter, he was looking for a hole in the turf into which he could throw himself.
Celtic's two-goal advantage from the first leg had gone after less than 20 minutes, two penalties (one dodgy, but who cares) from Ricky van Wolfswinkel had the visitors careering into despair before they had a chance to break sweat. Gone was the authority of the weekend and, Lord how we read too much into their destruction of St Mirren on Sunday. Gone, too, was any semblance of an attacking threat and any modicum of composure at the back.
To be fair, though both Jos Hooiveld and Daniel Majstorovic had a lamentable evening, they were not aided a great deal by a midfield that were throughly thrashed in the one-on-ones with their opposite numbers. Scott Brown? Didn't exist, save for some shouting and roaring. He was taken off for his own good. Sad, but true.
With the tie level at 2-2 at the break, an apoplectic Lennon would have rammed home (literally, we suspect) the need to stop the tomfoolery in his midfield and at the heart of his defence, but it never halted. It got worse.
A couple of minutes into the new half, Van Wolfswinkel, the darling of the Galgenwaard, drove in his third, followed by a fourth for Barry Maguire a short while later. The wonder was that it stayed at just the four goals, for Utrecht deserved more.
And so, humiliation from the jaws of victory for Celtic. No Europa League this time. They might gripe about the second penalty, but when you're out-classed to this extent you'd be as well off keeping schtum and getting back to being a bully in the SPL. For Lennon, he was nowhere else to go now. He hoped his new team had this tie sussed after Parkhead. How wrong he was.
The worry beforehand didn't just centre on Celtic's desperate vulnerability in these away games in Europe but also in Utrecht's rather tidy home form.You wouldn't go so far as to say that the Galgenwaard stadium is a fortress, but they're used to seeing their side do well here, their boys turning over Ajax 2-0 last season at a time when the Amsterdam side were battering all-comers on the back of bundles of goals from the metronomic Luis Suarez.
But there's a new goalscoring wunderkind in the Eredvisie nowadays; Van Wolfswinkel. He is the coming force of the Eredvisie, a 23-year-old with eight goals in his 17 games last season and five in his first three in this season's Dutch league. Add in three more now. Whether or not the talk of him being targeted by Liverpool is bunkum, there's little doubt but that he is a dangerous player.
And it took him less than twenty minutes to rip Celtic's first-leg lead to shreds. Of course, he had help. Heaps and heaps of it. Even before the nightmarish penalty scenario started to unfold in the Celtic box, Van Wolfswinkel must have been licking his chops at the sight of a faltering visiting defence. Truth be told, he should have had the first of his goals a little earlier when Celtic allowed the ball bounce about their area just asking to be spanked home. He snatched at it and the chance went.
So, Celtic weathered that particular storm, not knowing that a veritable hurricane was heading their way.
We were a mere eleven minutes into the longest night. Van Wolfswinkel ought to have had a goal by now, Dries Mertens had just forced a decent save out of Zaluska from a free-kick, and now Celtic had given away a penalty.
It was a calamitous situation, a piece of stupidity from Hooiveld in front of his own people. Diving in on Michael Silberbauer was a ridiculous thing to do and he paid the price. Penalty number one for Van Wolfswinkel. And goal number one, tucked away despite Zaluska getting a hand on it.
This was the doomsday scenario for Lennon and it got more excruciating as the minutes wore on. The contact between Zaluska and Mertens might have been debatable for the second penalty, but what was beyond doubt was Celtic's rank discipline in the premable to the controversial 'collision'.
The culprit this time was their supposed rock, Daniel Majstorovic. When the big Swede is making a hash of things then you know you're in bother - and make a hash of it he certainly did. He had come across to left-back to track Mertens, tried to clip a ball up the line only to see it come off Mertens. Hen then let the Utrecht player go while appealing feebly for an offside, his arm raised high in the air as Mertens galloped in on goal, whereupon he went down. Celtic appealed madly, as well they might, but their protests were waved away and the penalty was dispatched by Van Wolfswinkel, low and true to Zaluska's right.
Less than a quarter of the game gone and their lead had now evaporated. Even by Celtic's standards of drama on the road this was remarkable. And, it has to be said, it could have got a lot worse.Scott Brown should have bene offering leadership out there but instead offered petulance and got himself booked. Minutes late, a cross from the right by Van Wolfswinkel carried all the way to Mertens a few yards from Zaluska's goal. Mertens was on his own in there. Astonishing, really. He sclaffed his shot into the ground and up on to the crossbar and away.
If that miss gave Celtic a breather, then they were panting and wheezing soon enough. Two minutes into the new half, they found themselves three down and again it was timid defending that undid them.
They allowed Urecht to gallop downfield, stood off them as Edouard Duplan played it to Van Wolfswinkel on the edge of the box and didn't make nearly enough effort to pressurise the striker before he rattled in the shot that gave him his hat-trick.
It would be impossible to over-state how lost Celtic looked. They didn't have one attack of note and not one player who stood up amid the dross. Brown, a festering sore in the midfield, was substituted after six minutes of the second half and a dozen minutes after that, it became four, when Utrecht were again allowed to waltz their way forward before subsitute Barry Maguire banged one in from distance.
In a word, embarrassing.
Utrecht: M Worm, T Cornelisse, A Schut, J Wuytens, M Nesu, E Duplan, M Silberbauer, J Lensky, N Asare, D Mertens, R van Wolfswinkel.
Celtic: L Zaluska, Cha Du-Ri, D Majstorovic, J Hooiveld, J Ledley, S Brown, B Kayal, E Juarez, J Forrest, M-A Fortune, G Samaras.