Celtic backed into a corner by Malmo in Champions League exit

Inability to defend set-pieces costly as they exit Champions League

Markus Rosenberg celebrates with team mates after scoring the first goal for Malmo against Celtic. Photograph: Andrew Boyers/Reuters

Markus Rosenberg celebrates with team mates after scoring the first goal for Malmo against Celtic. Photograph: Andrew Boyers/Reuters

 

Malmo 2 Celtic 0 (Agg: 4-3)

Malmo’s success story continues apace. This small club have no rightful place among football’s aristocracy but will take their place in the Champions League proper for the second time in as many years.

Celtic and their manager, Ronny Deila, will care little for the Swedish fairytale. The Glasgow club, with resources to dwarf Malmo, were swatted aside from a position of 3-2 in front before kick-off in this play-off second leg.

Deila’s shortcomings, and those of a team which has not really progressed at all in the 14 months of his tenure, were brutally shown up here. The Europa League, where Celtic will now compete, seems an appropriate level.

Malmo have earned their right for bigger and better things. It was to Celtic’s detriment that even their fitness and attitude looked poor. Damage inflicted by Malmo in the dying moments of game one was endorsed, and some, on their own patch.

So much had been said in the aftermath of the first meeting of these sides that it was easy to remember that there was another, vital match to play. Celtic, to their credit, had laughed off the offensive comments of Malmo’s goalkeeper Johan Wiland. Age Hareide, the manager of the Swedish champions, had not been particularly shy with his sentiment either.

Given what had come before, and a wonderful atmosphere at the Malmo Stadium, it was little surprise that this encounter opened - and continued - at a ferocious pace.

Deila’s dilemma related to right-back. Mikael Lustig had travelled with the Celtic party but never seemed to have a realistic chance of playing because of a hamstring problem. He was duly ruled out, with the former Manchester United youngster Saidy Janko - better known for attacking attributes than defending - handed a start.

Deila’s switch on the left side of defence was made by choice. Charlie Mulgrew, who offered both height and menacing set-piece delivery, was preferred to Emilio Izaguirre. Malmo, meanwhile, were boosted by the return of their captain Markus Rosenberg from suspension.

Mulgrew endured a torrid start. He should have been booked for an eighth-minute foul on Nikola Djurdjic before being easily evaded by Jo Inge Berget just moments later. Berget’s excellent cross eluded everyone.

Indecision in the home defence soon triggered a Celtic opportunity. A hopeful punt from Janko caused Malmo panic, and Leigh Griffiths skipped forward before sending a half-volley narrowly wide of Wiland’s left upright. The visitors, who had been pressed back until that point, had been afforded much-needed confidence. All Griffiths had lacked was the crucial commodity for a striker of composure.

The same could not be said for Rosenberg. Mulgrew’s continuing woes played a part in the swift move that led to a Malmo corner. Yoshimar Yotún’s inswinger was met by the Malmo No9, with Craig Gordon given no chance.

Malmo clearly merited their advantage. Their ebullience contrasted markedly with Celtic’s ponderous play from middle to front and tepid defending. Deila’s best hope was to reach the interval only one goal behind and perform some sort of resuscitation job.

He was almost offered better than that. Nir Bitton saw a goal ruled out by the Serb match officials four minutes before the break. If there was an infringement, it appeared to be from a Malmo player rather than Celtic one.

Celtic’s anger over that inexplicable decision was almost compounded within two second-half minutes. Instead, Rosenberg screwed a glorious chance wide of goal from eight yards. Some Gordon heroics followed, with the goalkeeper producing a wonderful double save from Djurdjic and Rosenberg.

The subsequent, straightforward set piece undid Celtic once again. The Malmo substitute Felipe Carvalho poked home, via a Dedryck Boyata deflection, from all of four yards. The visiting defending, to put it mildly, would be better recognised in amateur football.

With Kris Commons, Nadir Ciftci and Gary Mackay-Steven introduced in an attempt to salvage the tie, Celtic did offer an element of attacking intent in the closing stages. There was to be no epic comeback, though; the lifeless nature of Celtic’s exit will resonate with their supporters as much as the fact it happened at all. Deila, afforded such a free run domestically, has been found wanting with stakes raised.

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