After all the missed chances in previous games, all the efforts directed wide and over, hit straight at goalkeepers from close range and blocked by desperate defenders from even closer range, Giorgios Giakoumakis wasn’t hanging about when his moment came just after the half hour mark at Celtic Park.
For people of a certain generation, it was a Hot Shot Hamish job, only about 40 yards closer to goal than big Balfour used to cut loose from on the comic pages of another lifetime.
Giakoumakis thumped it home with relish and anger. Relish because the ball broke free in front of him after Liel Abada had competed with two Shakhtar defenders. Anger because all of these Celtic players will have been frustrated by all the opportunities that passed them by in their previous four group games.
Celtic’s numbers going into this were quite something. They’d managed more attempts on goal in their matches than Paris St-Germain, Juventus, Inter Milan, AC Milan, Spurs, Borussia Dortmund and Ajax had managed in theirs. They’d more shots on target than Dortmund, Ajax, Sporting, Porto, AC Milan and Sevilla. Sixteen shots on target and yet just two miserly goals and a lowlights reel of near misses best watched from behind a couch.
When Celtic hit the target against Real Madrid in Glasgow, Shakhtar in Poland and Leipzig in Glasgow and Germany, they scored 12.5% of the time. Only Atletico Madrid, Bayer Leverkusen and Copenhagen had a worse return across the span of the first four matchdays. Giakoumakis changed the picture, it was Celtic’s first shot on target on the night. Mercy be. Celtic Park erupted, a deafening amalgam of joy and relief.
Not since Callum McGregor scored against Bayern Munich five years ago had this stadium seen a home goal in the Champions League group stage. The challenge now was holding on to it – or adding to it.
They’d recent experience to draw on in that regard. Last month they led 1-0 against Shakhtar but in the words of Ange Postecoglou, they grew negative, played safe, went into their shell and drew a game they should have won. That was the lesson. Stay true. Stay positive. Stay in front.
They couldn’t do it. Not because they lost their nerve. Possibly because they showed too much of it. Too much attacking intent that left gaps to exploit, too much desire to make it two and not enough pragmatism that would have kept Shakhtar at zero. Postecoglou doesn’t go a bundle on caution, of course.
Mudryk suckerpunch floored Celtic
After something of a chess match in the opening 45 minutes, everything switched in the second. When Marvellous Marvin Hagler went toe-to-toe with Thomas The Hitman Hearns for the middleweight championship of the world in Caesars Palace in 1985, both men decided to dispense with all pretensions of defence and went for the jugular. At times during the second half this was a footballing equivalent.
Shakhtar attacked with menace early in the new half, a warning landing on Celtic’s lap when Oleksandr Zubkov hit the side-netting when he should have scored. That was a prelude to the equaliser. Celtic got suckered, plain and simple. From an attacking free-kick in Shakhtar’s half to an electric counter-attack by the wonderful Mykhaylo Mudryk.
Arsenal are said to be interested in Mudryk. They ought to get a move on. When he decided to go, he went. His pace was devastating and his finish a piece of class. Postecoglou turned away from the pitch with a pained expression on his face. Another mountain to climb now to get that win.
The game was level and all sorts of space had opened up, giant chasms in the home midfield for Shakhtar to attack and decent acreage out wide in the visitors’ rearguard that Celtic could target.
That angst over missed chances? It returned. Five minutes after Mudryk made it 1-1, Giakoumakis played in Kyogo Furuhashi – the two of them starting in the team has been as rare as a sighting of the dodo – but Kyogo kept his shot low when he should have lifted it high. Celtic Park groaned at the lost moment, but in terms of sitters it wasn’t even in the ballpark of what happened next.
Celtic can’t complain about a point, not when when they were on the right side of the miss of the century. This century, last century, any century. Ronny Rosenthal, Peter van Vossen, Chris Iwelumo – rest easy, boys. There’s a new kid in town.
Mudryk – who else? – accelerated through space and turned on the afterburners to get away from Cameron Carter-Vickers. It was almost like he’d been wound up and let free, such was his pace. He did everything.
Beat the Celtic defence, took Joe Hart out of commission with a cushioned square pass to Danylo Sikan, who could have paused, bent down and headed it home, but instead opted to do an impression of an octopus falling out of a tree. He put it wide. The rumour last night was that Diana Ross, penalty queen of World Cups past, was hoping to contact him to empathise.
It wouldn’t be Celtic had there not been a late surge and Matt O’Riley was the main man in that area. Another chance, another one wide. One point, but that was about as much as they warranted. Another learning step towards winning some of these contests? That’s what Postecoglou will hope. They have a lot going for them, Celtic, but they have much growing up to do.
They have one more crack at it, in Madrid next week. It’s hard to see a game against the European champions as a dead rubber, but that’s what it is. That’s the harsh reality at life with the big hitters.