How Celtic weathered a storm to qualify for the Europa League Group stages

Updated: Oct 2


Ange Postecoglou's team will be in the draw for the Euro League Group Stages tomorrow in Istanbul, despite losing 2-1 on the night to an AZ side welcoming back key players who contributed to 'beating Celtic at their own game' for much of this second leg.


The first 25 minutes of the match was a microcosm of Postecoglou's first games in charge of Celtic, clinical but careless. Kyogo had the ball in the net three minutes into the tie, when Ralston located Abada on the right wing before a perfectly weighted pass found the Japanese forward in the box to stroke home his seventh goal of the season.


No sooner than 180 seconds later though, a calamitous passage of play involving, the usually composed Stephen Welsh, and experienced Joe Hart saw the young defender misjudge a ball over the top with Hart slow to anticipate the danger as Abhoukhlal nipped in and levelled the match on the night.


This set the tone for the rest of the half as Celtic struggled to deal with AZ's direct approach who were having oodles of joy in the final third through the middle and down both flanks.


On the left, it was returning Swedish international, Jesper Karlsson, who was causing Ralston and the rest of the Celtic defence big problems with his quick feet and accurate deliveries and, in the centre, it was his captain Teun Koopmeiners - who wouldn't look out of place beside Arthur Shelby down the Garrison pub - who was pulling the strings in midfield.


Meanwhile Greg Taylor was doing his best to cope with Kyogo's countryman, Yukinari Sugawara on the right wing, before his night was cut short after landing awkwardly on his shoulder. He was replaced by young Adam Montgomery on 25 minutes and will be a doubt for Sunday's fixture at Ibrox.


Unfortunately it was only a minute later that AZ had the ball in the net again, as a calamitous moment to trump the previous calamity resulted in Carl Starfelt somehow managing to divert the ball into his own bottom corner from Sugawara's delivery.


Celtic were rattled and the AZ looked like scoring with every attack.


Had it not been for a fine save from Hart down to his left on 43 minutes from the goalscorer Abhoukhlal, Celtic would've gone into the break with their lead from Parkhead completely wiped out.


The storm gained momentum


I'm absolutely certain that the words 'more of the same' wouldn't have left Ange Postecoglou's lips at the half-time break, but that's exactly how his team started the second period.


AZ, who sensed blood, made a blistering start and had it not been for another good stop by Hart on 53 minutes, they would've levelled the tie.


Postecoglou made his first change on the hour mark, bringing on Odsonne Edouard for Tom Rogic, who moments earlier squandered a half volley at the end of Celtic's best passage of play since the opening goal.


It was no coincidence that the Hoops enjoyed their best spell of possession after the Frenchman took to the field. His ability to hold up the ball and link play was crucial in stemming the relentless swell of AZ attacks.


The Dutch side weren't done trying yet though, and in a game of 'ying and yang' for Joe Hart, he looked less than convincing when flapping at another long ball that his defence hadn't dealt with.


It was on 78 minutes though that the best chance of the whole tie fell to Alkmaar's young substitute, Ernest Poku. The 19-year-old somehow managed to steer his effort wide when sliding in a the back post, when it seemed certain that the net would bulge for AZ's third of the evening.


This miss seemed to take the wind out of AZ's sails as Celtic managed to tread water with each one of the back four making important interceptions until the final whistle sounded.


Big Ange and his Celtic team will be happy with the result but not with the performance as they can now look to Sunday's trip across the city after returning to Glasgow from the short flight from Schiphol airport.