Celtic were handed a reprieve in the last round against Legia Warsaw but against Maribor there was nothing for the Hoops to cling on to. This time their Champions League hopes ended for good with a straightforward defeat.
The loss means that although Celtic's season is just a few weeks old, it is already over in a sense. In an unabashed one-horse race of a league, Ronny Deila was always going to be defined by his exploits in Europe. At least until next season he will now be known as the man who was given a second chance and blew it.
Morales Tavares' 75th minute goal summed up Celtic's performance in front of an excitable yet nervous crowd. Incoherent defensive play presented the Maribor forward with the one chance he needed to send the Scottish champions into the Europa League draw.
The Hoops started the better yet around the 15-minute mark they contracted a touch of the Legias. The kind of slack defensive play that dogged both their games against the Poles suddenly returned, allowing Agaim Ibraimi to thread through Tavares for a shot at goal, only for Efe Ambrose to make a block.
The crowd at Celtic Park, at their loudest and fullest for quite some time, started the more euphoric but soon grew impatient and flustered, with much of its ire directed at Ambrose.
He was at fault as Mitja Viler strode forward into the space vacated by the Nigerian to force a strong stop from the keeper Craig Gordon. A series of slashed crosses and misplaced passed did little to make his peace with the home crowd.
Callum McGregor – playing in front of the watching Gordon Strachan, who handed him his first Scotland call-up on Monday – was the only man in green and white looking sure of himself going forward, with Stokes neither holding the ball up well nor offering himself in the channels. Virgil van Dijk did go close to finding the opener with a towering header that clipped the outside of a Maribor post.
Beram Kayal was withdrawn for Kris Commons at the interval, having born the brunt of Deila's rage over the course of the first 45 minutes.
The significant improvement after the restart culminated in McGregor flicking a Stokes cut-back from the byline on to the crossbar as Celtic finally began to take a grip of the contest. Maribor still carried a threat and were presented with the chance Celtic had hinted at gifting them all night.
Ambrose was caught unaware from a throw-in, with Vrsic nipping past the full-back before squaring for Tavares. Gordon saved the shot from a tight angle with an outstretched leg.
With just over 15 minutes left to play Maribor struck a body-blow. An ill-timed attempt from Emilio Izaguirre to prevent a cross into the box from the left prompted a scramble, with Tavares spinning a looped shot over Gordon.
Ambrose missed the chance to make amends for his shaky performance, planting a firm header a yard wide from a Stokes delivery. And Van Dijk passed up an even better chance to send the game into extra-time, poking a volley into the body of Jasmin Handanovic from close in with just seconds remaining.
Republic of Ireland international and former Celtic striker Cillian Sheridan scored the fourth goal for Apoel Nicosia as the Cypriot champions beat Danish side Aalborg 4-0 on the night (5-1 on aggregate) to reach the group stages of the Champions League last night. Guardian Service