The absence of Ciro Immobile from Maurizio Sarri’s starting line-up was always an odd affair. After an hour of mediocrity the under fire boss sent for his big cannon.
Two goals in the final eight minutes propelled the Serie A into the last 16. And ended any lingering remote hope of the Parkhead edging a third place finish and Europa League football after Christmas.
With nothing less than a victory enough Celtic spent the second half pressing for a lifeline. Heading into the final minutes they looked the more likely team to score, the 4000 away fans in a corner of the Stadio Olympico making themselves heard.
But for bad luck in the Champions League the Scottish champions would have none at all. When Kyogo Furuhashi lost possession in a promising attacking position the home team swept forward.
Substitute Ciro Immobile bagged a late brace to send Lazio into the last 16
The Italy striker flashed a deflected Gustav Iasksen cross past Joe Hart in the 82nd minute
Immobile cut inside Cameron Carter-Vickers and rolled the ball past Hart in 85th minute
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Gustav Isaksen’s attempt at a shot took a huge deflection and fell kindly for Immobile to finish calmly and send the home support into raptures with eight minutes to play.
Lazio’s goalscorer when Celtic won in this stadium in 2019, any hope of a repeat ended with the second goal three minutes later.
Immobile won a challenge with Scales a little too easily and turned inside a lunging Cameron Carter-Vickers before rolling the ball past Joe Hart for his 203rd goal for the club.
Celtic have still never won in Italy in the European Cup or Champions League, drawing two, losing nine and failing to score in nine of their 10 games. And nothing summed up this campaign more than the third minute of added time, when the Turkish referee awarded a penalty for an arm to the back of striker Oh by defender Patric. Referred to the pitchside monitor everyone knew what came next. The spot kick rescinded, the Scottish champions were denied the small slither of consolation their performance probably deserved
With one point from five games the campaign can’t end soon enough now. Losing to a decidedly unimpressive Lazio team in Glasgow was painful enough. The latest collapse away from home merely confirmed that, at this level Brendan Rodgers has a mountain to climb to restore a squad of projects to a competitive standard.
In Celtic’s away defeats in Rotterdam and Madrid the first half ended with the loss of an awful goal before half-time. This time Scotland’s champions made it to the halfway point unscathed. For a club with just one clean sheet in their 38 away games in this competition – conceding 95 goals – it felt like progress of a sort. A false dawn, more like.
This was a night when Joe Hart became the first English goalkeeper to make 50 European Cup/Champions League appearances. The anguish for Celtic lies in the fact that, until Immobile struck twice, he was barely troubled.
There was a huge let off for Celtic in the opening minutes when Alistair Johnston was caught ball watching at the back post, Felipe Anderson drifting in to space to head Matteo Guendouzi’s cross down into the turf, the ball bouncing over the crossbar. It needed the introduction of Immobile for the last half hour to make the difference.
Celtic forward Kyogo Furuhashi fired inches past the far post after the interval
Lazio forward Gustav Isaksen has his head in his hands after his first-time shot rolled wide
After a slightly ropey Celtic settled. Johnston made amends for his defensive faux pas with a brilliantly weighted ball in behind the Lazio defence for Kyogo Furuhashi to run on to. The striker got there before keeper Provedel, central defender Patric stepping over to thump the danger clear.
Promising passages of play saw the visitors keep the ball better, while threatening little. In a promising position on the edge of the area Paulo Bernardo panicked and squandered an easy pass to Yang. More composure required the half time stats showed 57% possession for Celtic. It’s a rare away game in the Champions League when they can say that.
Yellow cards for the full-backs Taylor and Johnston – the latter a nonsense – offered the main grounds for concern. Both players began the second half walking a tightrope. And Celtic had experience of how that tends to end.
Ultimately, Celtic had to win the game. How close they came to opening the scoring after 49 minutes. Fine play from Matt O’Riley on the edge of the area fed the ball to Kyogo on the right edge of the area. The danger man steadied himself then drove the ball low towards the base of the back post. With Provedel stretching and beaten the ball skidded inches wide. It was Celtic’s best effort of the game.
Moments later another outstanding chance fell to South Korean winger Yang. A deep probing peach of a cross from James Forrest was begging to be headed in at the back post. A poor decision saw Yang try to head it back across goal into the path of Kyogo. He found no one and another promising opportunity was gone. They had still only mustered one shot on target.
When Gustav Isaksem dragged a low shot across the face of goal, the ball skidding through the legs of Liam Scales and inches wide, Maurizio Sarri had seen enough. Sending for the old guard, Lazio legend Ciro Immobile and Parkhead matchwinner Pedro. The home team were going for broke.
The introduction of Mikey Johnston offered fresh legs for the tiring James Forrest, after a gruelling shift. The new bhoy instantly embarked on a mazy solo run which fell down at the last.
Hyunjan Yang spurned a glorious opportunity to put Celtic ahead in the second-half
Lazio winger Felipe Anderson headed wide in the only clear chance of the first half
With 20 minutes to play it was time for Brendan Rodgers to throw caution to the wind. The arrival of striker Hyeongyu Oh for midfielder Paulo Bernardo was a blunt acknowledgement of the fact that one point wouldn’t do. Celtic had to find a goal from somewhere.
Cameron Carter-Vickers threatened to grab it when he rose to meet O’Riley ‘s corner, Provedel making amends for the concession of a cheap set piece with an acrobatic save on the line.
The 4,000 Celtic supporters, many of whom were still locked out by over zealous security long after kick-off, were now in full voice. In contrast the Lazio fans in a crowd of 50,555 booed and whistled their disapproval, howling in anguish when Luis Alberto scooped a fine chance over the bar.
They didn’t have long to wait. The contrast between these teams was highlighted by Kyogo tumbling to the ground at one end of the pitch seconds before Immobile struck at the other then hammered the final nail in the coffin with a clinical second. At this level quality always shines through in the end.