Celtic glass half full despite loss of two second-half goals in Lille
Celtic’s glass has been presented as almost entirely drained in recent days.
For that reason, it is difficult to see Neil Lennon adjudging even the surrender of a two-goal lead in Lille as changing the fact that their Europa League 2-2 draw was a half-full style outcome. The mini-collapse that allowed the home side to recover from the loss of a first half Mohamed Elyounoussi double pointed to familiar defensive fragilities. In fairness, though, Lille threw everything at Neil Lennon’s men, and that they could not ultimately put them to the sword spoke of an ultimately valiant evening in the south of France. Not least because of a first-half penalty save from Scott Bain.
No doubt, there will be continued grumbles that Celtic - for the first time since 2014 - have now gone four games without a win. However, in every other respect, the performance spoke of the beginnings of a rehabilitation following a wretched period created by the draw at Abedeen on Sunday that followed on from the defeats by AC Milan and Rangers.
Vim has returned to Celtic’s attack
Elyounoussi could have easily bagged himself a hat-trick across a 90 minutes in which he was a constant menace. In the 4-2-3-1, wherein Olivier Ntcham was in the middle of the three behind Albian Ajeti, Celtic were able to fashion the one-touch interchanges that have been their hallmark in carving open opponents.
Two scintillating goals were crafted in this manner. For the 25th minute first, Ajeti produced an audacious back heel into the path of Elyounoussi who strode forward and shaped a stunning effort into the top corner.
Both Celtic full-backs put in sterling shifts, Diego Laxalt and Jeremie Frimpong both supporting their attacks and tucking in. The Dutch teenager’s enterprise was key to Celtic’s second in the 32nd minute. After powering down the flank he produced the perfect ball in to allow Elyounoussi, with awareness and deftness, to guide it into the corner.
There was a zip to Elyounoussi throughout. And as Celtic were able to relieve the pressure on them at 2-2 with some rapid breaks, the attacker was presented with a glorious opportunity to seal a monster win when he breezed through the middle just after they had been pegged back to 2-2, but delayed when darting into the box and was crowded out.
Moreover, the appearance of Odsonne Edouard as a late substitution for Ajeti following three weeks out because of his contracting of Covid-19 will give reason for Lennon to believe that he is getting closer to having all his major artillery back in business.
Bain and big saves
It was a major call from Lennon to retain Bain with £4.5m signing Vasilis Barkas fit again. It was spectacularly rewarded. The charge levelled at the Greek in his short Celtic career is that he hasn’t made any genuine match-changing saves. In the first period last night, his understudy - in the early part of the season, at least - produced two that were crucial.
Inside the first 13 minutes, as Celtic struggled to clear a ball that bounced around the box, Boubakary Soumare was afforded the opportunity to send in a ferocious drive that Bain somehow clawed away.
Dundee supporters used to bemoan that Bain didn’t save penalties. He showed he can against Lille with a spot-kick that was rough justice on Celtic, with a clip from Shane Duffy on Jonathan David in the 39th minute, clearly outside the box.
David, the £25m signing that hasn’t been able to score for his new French club, then couldn’t outsmart Bain, who faked to go one way then dived right only to stop the Canadian’s attempt with his foot down the left.
That the keeper had luck as well as judgment on his side was demonstrated a couple of minutes later when he dropped a cross only for Sven Botman to fire the loose ball on to the crossbar with the goal gaping.
Defensive issues remain
Lennon’s only lament post-match was that yet another goal had been given up from a set-piece. It made for the third such counter conceded in this manner across their past four games. Celtic were beginning to creak when Lille earned a 66th minute penalty. By then they had lost Kristoffer Ajer to a suspected groin strain. Yet, even with all that, they should have better attacked a corner that Adama Soumaoro flicked on for Zeki Celik to bundle in at back post.
Again, questions will be asked of Duffy, whose head is supposed to be a magnet for such balls into the box. And again, across the evening - as the rash challenge that resulted in the erroneous penalty demonstrated - the decision-making of the on-loan Brighton centre-back appeared that of a player not trusting his instincts. It was just his luck, or rather lack of it, that the scuffed shot from Nanitamo Ikone to make it 2-2 with 16 minutes of normal time remaining, found the net after grazing off his hip. He could not be blamed for this unwelcome intervention and, like his team, he will be heartened more than beaten down by the happenings in Lille.
Lille: Magian, Celik, Botman, Soumaoro, Bradaric, Andre, Sanches (64), Ikone, Bamba, Yazici (Weah 82), David (Yilmaz 64). Subs: Arnezis, Chevalier, Djalo, Fonte Xeka, Araújo, Lihadji, Pied, Reinildo.
Celtic: Bain, Frimpong, Duffy, Ajer (Bitton 53), Laxalt, Brown (Soro 81), McGregor, Ntcham (Welsh 82), Christie (Rogic 81), Elyounoussi, Ajeti (Edouard 64). Subs: Barkas, Taylor, Griffiths, Klimala, Henderson, Karamoko.
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