Determined Celtic get back into Champions League contention
Neil Lennon’s side finish with ten men again but prove too strong for Ajax
Celtic’s James Forrest celebrates after scoring the opening goal from the penalty spot during the Uefa Champions League Group H match against Ajax at Celtic Park Stadium. Photo: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images
Celtic 2 Ajax 1: Celtic produced yet another impressive result against top-level opposition to boost their outside chances of reaching the knock-out phase for the second season in succession.
After the sale of key personnel and in the the absence of some of his more experiences players, Celtic’s manager, Neil Lennon, deserves praise for maintaining the club’s momentum in Europe.
His team were worthy winners and the victory will boost confidence for the return fixture in Amsterdam. Nothing could dampen the home side’s celebrations, not even the late sending off of Nir Biton for a reckless challenge or a last-minute goal for Ajax from Lasse Schone.
Celtic’s hope lay in the inexperience of Ajax and their record of one win in 10 Champions League matches.
The frantic early exchanges resembled a knock-out tie. Celtic enjoyed more possession but Ajax attacked with pace. Fraser Forster almost helped the visitors’ cause by spilling a routine cross ball, with the Celtic goalkeeper recovering to kick clear.
Celtic then created a glorious opportunity. Mikael Lustig’s low cross should have been knocked home by Teemu Pukki, but the Finland striker failed to connect with the ball.
They almost paid for that wastefulness on the half hour. Celtic failed to properly clear a Viktor Fischer free-kick and the ball dropped to Christian Poulsen whose effort rebounded off Forster’s right-hand post.
At this stage, Ajax were looking increasingly dominant. Celtic were struggling in central midfield in the absence of their suspended captain, Scott Brown, with Beram Kayal and Charlie Mulgrew unable to exert any real influence. Kayal did at least make a crucial saving tackle on the marauding Fischer, just two minutes after Poulsen’s opportunity.
When Celtic’s breakthrough arrived, it resulted from some poor defending by Stefano Denswil. The Ajax defender needlessly brought down Anthony Stokes and Forrest, hitherto Celtic’s best performer, stepped up to stroke home an excellent penalty.
There were clashes between Ajax fans and the police during the break. Celtic’s second-half priority was to protect their lead. During the interval Lennon would have stressed both the importance of that – and the value of a second goal.
Seven minutes after the restart, Forster once again proved Celtic’s saviour. The England squad player’s fine save when Thulani Serero was sent clean through on goal was rendered even more valuable within a minute.
In Celtic’s very next attack, Kayal’s 20-yard shot was deflected into the Ajax net by Denswil. The build-up work of Georgios Samaras in advance of the goal was worthy of credit.
Kolbeinn Sigthorsson shot narrowly wide as Ajax sought a response. Serero drove over with 12 minutes remaining. The night ended with Celtic down to 10 men. Biton, who replaced Lustig, lunged at Serero and was shown a straight red card.
In the dying seconds, Schone curled a fine effort past Forster from 20 yards for Ajax’s goal.
CELTIC: Forster, Ambrose, Lustig (Biton 77), van Dijk, Mulgrew, Samaras, Pukki (Balde 90), Kayal (Ledley 70), Izaguirre, Stokes, Forrest. Subs not used: Zaluska, Rogic, Atajic, Fisher. Booked: van Dijk.
AJAX AMSTERDAM: Cillessen, Van Rhijn (Schone 80), Veltman, Denswil, Blind, De Jong, Poulsen (Boilesen 68), Serero, Andersen , Sigthorsson, Fischer (De Sa 72). Subs not used: Vermeer, van der Hoorn, Klaassen, Hoesen.
Booked: Veltman, Poulsen.
Referee: Ivan Bebek (Croatia).
Attendance: 55, 000