Celtic “lost their way” but can take belief from the Europa League qualifying win over FK Jablonec, says manager Ange Postecoglou.
While the visitors created a glut of chances to earn the Australian a first victory at the fourth attempt, their defensive frailties were again exposed.
Celtic conceded at 2-0 and 3-1 up after Liel Abada, Kyogo Furuhashi and James Forrest had netted. However, Ryan Christie restored the two-goal cushion after Nir Bitton failed to clear Tomas Malinsky’s effort in a frantic finish.
Ultimately, it gave Celtic a handsome lead to take into the second leg in Glasgow next Thursday, with Dutch side AZ Alkmaar awaiting the winners of the tie in the play-off round.
“It’s great to get a win, especially for the players who have worked hard without getting the result,” said Postecoglou.
“It’s a reward for the players and hopefully gives them confidence and belief.
“There’s definitely areas we can improve. We started really well, but there were periods where we lost control, particularly in the second half.”
Having fallen in the Champions League qualifiers to Denmark’s Midtjylland, Celtic’s second chance in Europe brought much-needed respite for Postecoglou amid a tumultuous start to this tenure.
The drop in stature from Europe’s premier club competition was illustrated by the sparse, 6000-capacity stadium, with one end populated by trees rather than seats. A glamour tie this was not.
Postecoglou pitched former England goalkeeper Joe Hart straight in for a debut and made a big call at the other end of the pitch by dropping Odsonne Edouard.
The off-form Frenchman could have few complaints after two goals in his last 11 games and his replacement, Furuhashi, marked his first start with a lovely finish for his first goal.
However, two soft concessions undermined Celtic’s positive attacking play and their defence looked ill at ease throughout.
David Turnbull had already passed up a glorious chance before Abada opening the scoring early on, drilling home after his initial effort from a Greg Taylor delivery was blocked.
A well-crafted second soon followed. Bitton stepped up from defence to release Furuhashi, whose dink over outrushing goalkeeper Jan Hanus nestled in the bottom corner of the net.
Celtic were in control and cruising – then their defence crumbled. A simple lob down the middle caught the visitors static and Vaclav Pilar strolled through to stab the ball past the helpless Hart.
The Scottish side looked to reassert their authority against opponents who finished a distant third in the Czech top fight last season.
Abada, McGregor and Turnbull all went close and Furuhashi blazed over from four yards after Abada’s deflected effort rebounded off a post.
Celtic should have been out of sight, but sloppiness crept in as Jablonec gained a foothold. Vojtech Kubista volleyed over, Pilar had a drive saved by Hart, and Marek Plasil’s snap-shot took a nick off Greg Taylor to whizz narrowly past.
Forrest quelled the growing unease, with Abada again integral. The Israeli burst through the middle, had a strike parried by Hanus, and Forrest squeezed in the rebound from an awkward angle.
But Celtic were again caught out at the back as Malinsky skinned Carl Starfelt and his curling effort was touched on to the post by Hart, with Bitton’s attempt to clear off the line ending up in the net.
Substitute Christie finally settled a breathless contest, diving to meet Forrest’s delivery and put Celtic within touching distance of the next round.
Man of the match – James Forrest
What did we learn?
Jablonec’s quality may be questionable, but this was Celtic’s most convincing attacking display under Postecoglou.
Furuhashi enjoyed a lively debut, Abada was again on the scoresheet, and Forrest added fluency to an attack that struggled to create in last weekend’s league defeat to Hearts.
However, glaring deficiencies at the back were again to the fore. Hart, a few jittery moments apart, had a solid enough start. But he wasn’t helped by a defence that has conceded in all four games under Postecoglou. Improvement is needed with much sterner tests to come.
What did they say?
Celtic manager Ange Postecoglou: “We created enough chances – we scored four and could have had another four. We just didn’t control the game as well as we could have.
“The performance was okay. Second half we didn’t really control the game the way we should have to make sure we won the game more comfortably.”
Celtic play their first home Premiership match of the season against Dundee on Sunday (15:00 BST), before hosting Jablonec in the second leg next Thursday (19:45).
- 23SurzynBooked at 75mins
- 12ZelenyBooked at 88mins
- 24PlestilSubstituted forMalínskyat 73′minutes
- 17KratochvílSubstituted forHouskaat 74′minutes
- 7PovazanecSubstituted forHübschmanat 86′minutes
- 27KubistaSubstituted forCvancaraat 85′minutes
- 11PilarSubstituted forHolíkat 78′minutes
- 3TaylorBooked at 54mins
- 14TurnbullSubstituted forChristieat 65′minutes
- 11AbadaSubstituted forRogicat 65′minutes
- 8FuruhashiSubstituted forEdouardat 66′minutes