Champions League qualifier
Celts face uphill task after Parkhead draw
Callum McGregor gave Celtic the perfect start when he opened the scoring against AEK Athens at Parkhead (pic: SNS Group)
Celtic 1 AEK Athens 1
Third qualifying round, first leg
The disappointment that Brendan Rodgers felt after losing out in his bid to sign John McGinn will only have deepened after the meeting with AEK Athens.
The build-up to the crucial first-leg tie had been dominated by transfer speculation surrounding the Scotland international.
Despite Celtic’s best efforts to bring the Hibs star to Parkhead, the midfielder signed a four-year deal with Aston Villa for a reported fee of £2.75 million only hours before the Hoops’ clash with the Greek champions.
Off the pitch it wasn’t the outcome Rodgers had been looking for. On the park it wasn’t the result he was after either.
The draw means Celtic face an extremely difficult task in the Olympic Stadium next week if they are to progress to the play-off round, with Rodgers knowing his team will have to score at least once to have a chance of going through.
The match had started so well for the home side, with Celtic dominating proceedings.
Callum McGregor’s low drive after 17 minutes gave the hosts the perfect foundation, however they failed to push home their advantage and were made to pay on the stroke of half-time.
Poor defending presented AEK with their first real chance of the tie and Viktor Klonaridis capitalised by firing past Craig Gordon.
The away goal deflated Celtic, who had to regroup during the break, and they never really hit the same heights during the second half despite having a man advantage from the 57th minute onwards following Konstantinos Galanopoulos’ second yellow card in quick succession.
The Scottish champions ran out of ideas as they tried to break down the well-drilled Greek rearguard but Rodgers remains confident ahead of the return leg.
“I thought we really dominated that first period,” he said. “We gave away a poor goal just before half-time but it was just a case of staying calm and getting our game going again.
“We continued to dominate after they got the man sent off, and the only frustration was we didn’t finish off some really good play.
“But I said to the players, we have nothing to fear. We put in a big performance and didn’t quite get the result tonight, but it gives us a chance to go out there and get a result.
“It was always going to be difficult, whatever the result tonight. But after that performance, I think we feel a lot more confident we can do that.”
Celtic: Gordon, Lustig (Sinclair, 77), Hendry, Ajer, Tierney, Brown, Forrest, McGregor, Ntcham, Rogic (Griffiths, 63), Edouard.
Goals: Celtic – McGregor (17); AEK Athens – Klonaridis (44)