Bayer Leverkusen 3-2 Celtic: Moussa Diaby strikes late in comeback win in Europa League

Ange Postecoglou spoke of using this game to measure how far Celtic had come. Eight minutes from their first ever win on German soil this late collapse in the BayArena suggests they’ve some way to go yet.

There’s no secret to where their achilles heel can be found. For this team to win away from home in Europe they need to score a minimum of three goals. Leading 2-1 heading into the final stages thanks to an audacious Josip Juaranovic penalty and a superb strike from Jota, Joe Hart performed some heroics in goal. Even as victory loomed, however, you sensed two goals wouldn’t be enough. A team of risk and reward, it never really is.

Even a point would have preserved hopes of a place in the last 32 of the Europa League. Midfielder Robert Andrich opened the scoring after 10 minutes and when the midfielder levelled the game with eight minutes to play a draw would have been a decent outcome.

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Moussa Diaby struck a brilliant goal late on to give the German side the three points

Diaby celebrated with Nadiem Amiri, who impressed when coming off the bench

Andrich scored his second to put Bayer Leverkusen back on level terms 

With three minutes to play the game turned on its head once more. The sublime talent of Florian Wirtz gathered the ball on the byeline and dinked a lovely ball to the edge of the area for Moussa Diaby to lash a volley into the net for the winner.

Albian Ajeti had a chance to snatch a point deep in injury time. Yet the arrival of the Swiss striker with James McCarthy, Liel Abada and Mikey Johnston signalled one of the key issues with this Celtic team. That the performance and result was an improvement on a 4-0 home thrashing from the same opponents in September goes without saying. When you the likes of Jota and Kyogo Furuhashi out of the starting line-up, however, the strength in depth simply isn’t there.

A first defeat since their last defeat to the group winners back-to-back wins over Hungarians Ferencvaros secured European football post-Christmas nd a play-off for the Europa Conference League in February. The January window offers an opportunity for Ppostecoglou to beef up his squad and the expectation is he’ll take it. A third place finish in the group – with nine goals shipped in three away games – suggests Celtic remain a work in progress.

The visitors lost the opening goal from an old achilles heel after 10 minutes when they failed to heed an early warning call.

Midfielder Robert Andrich had already bulleted one header over the bar from an outswinging Florian Wirtz corner, Leverkusen’s second in a brisk start to the game.

Jota smashed Celtic into the lead as the Scottish side fought back from a goal down

The Portuguese star ran over to the travelling supporters to celebrate in style 

Josip Juranovic scored a cheeky panenka penalty to put Celtic back on level terms 

When they forced another one the same routine unfolded once more. The sublime talent of Wirtz curled the ball into the danger area and Andrich timed his run perfectly – leading marker Anthony Ralston cleverly into a crowd of bodies – before a downward header bounced unhindered into the net for the simplest of goals. It was just too easy.

Celtic know the threat posed by Jeremie Frimpong better than most. For half an hour the former Parkhead full-back had the run of the right flank, the area of greatest danger for the visitors. Eventually they began to settle down and pass the ball.

Leverkusen conspicuously doubled up on Jota every time he got the ball. Yet the Portuguese winger was still key to the move which earned Celtic the lifeline from 12 yards. With a little help from VAR.

The Panenka penalty is a risky old game. Pull it off and it looks like an audacious act of genius. Misjudge it by an inch or two and a player quickly turns into Billy Bigtime.

Presented with the task of drawing Celtic level from the spot six minutes before half-time Josip Juranwalked the fine line between champion and chump and came out on top.

There wasn’t much it. When Kyogo Furuhashi was cleaned out in the area by Bayer Leverkusen keeper Lukas Hradecky, video assistant referee invited match official Anastasios Sidiropoulos to take a look at the pitchside monitor.

There was never much doubt it was a penalty. Attacking an inviting Jota cross the Japanese international was clattered unceremoniously. The outcome was an open and shut case.

The ball grazed the underside of the crossbar and the keeper dived to his right 

Bayer Leverkusen broke the deadlock though Robert Andrich’s early goal from a corner

Yet the last time Furuhashi won Celtic a timely penalty Giorgos Giukoumakis cost the Parkhead side two points in the title race. This time Juranovic stepped up and took his record to three penalties from three by dinking the ball onto the underside of the crossbar, the ball bouncing down into the net for a welcome equaliser.

Celtic still had to make it to half-time on level terms. It was a close thing.

On 44 minutes Leverkusen hit the woodwork twice after Juranovic carelessly surrendered possession in a dangerous area. Moussa Diaby smashed an upstoppable drive against the junction of upright and crossbar with Joe Hart beaten. The ball then broke kindly to Florian Wirtz, the wonderkid flicking his right foot out and guiding the ball onto the face of the woodwork once more. Two huge breaks had turned the Celtic’s way. There was still a long way to go.

By the end of this you felt for Joe Hart. At key moments of the second half he made big saves.

Nine minutes after the restart Moussa Diaby burst through the backline onto a Wirtz through ball and forced Celtic’s keeper to save with his legs. When the ball broke perfectly for Amine Adli a second goal looked certain. Somehow the former England number one managed to clamber back and claw the ball off the toe of the young Frenchman. A quite brilliant piece of goalkeeping it was very nearly a game changing moment.

Within three minutes Celtic were ahead after a stunning counter attack. Gathering a high ball Hart picked out Forrest on the right touchline. Some deft one touch passing worked the ball to the advanced figure of Bitton in space. At first it seemed as if the Israeli had blown chance to play the killer pass. An untimely slip from Frimpong offered Celtic a second chance, Furuhashi playing the ball across the area to the unmarked Jota. Thumping the ball low into the far corner of the net the online Benfica winger ran to milk the acclaim of the 1900 Celtic fans in the far corner of the stadium with teammates.

He glanced a classy header into the net following Florian Wirtz’s corner to put them ahead

The arrival of Abada, Johnston, McCarthy and Ajeti for Forrest, Jota, an injured Nir Bitton and Kyogo offered fresh legs, but no guarantee of a relaxed end to the night. Suddenly the ball failed to stick in forward areas and Celtic came under renewed pressure

With eight minutes left to play the dam finally burst. For the second time in the game Andrich was the man who breached Celtic’s defences. Over the two games Wirtz tore Celtic to pieces, a lofted cross towards his teammate lashed through the legs of Hart with venom.

The game wasn’t done yet. With three minutes to play Diaby hammered the final nail into Celtic’s Europa League coffin with the controlled volley which preserved Leverkusens formidable unbeaten home record in the competition.

Fined £12,600 by UEFA earlier this week for a ‘provocative’ banner the pyrotechnics set off by Celtic’s away support before kick-off will no doubt bring another punishment. Sometimes it never rains but it pours.

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