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Celtic 0 Legia Warsaw 2: Celtic face the music . . . just not Zadok the Priest

ZADOK the Priest won't be at Celtic Park this season.

Kris Commons was unable to mount a rescue mission at Murrayfield last night. Picture: SNS
Kris Commons was unable to mount a rescue mission at Murrayfield last night. Picture: SNS

Neither will Barcelona, Juventus, Bayern Munich or Real Madrid.

After two seasons of savouring Champions League football, the competition's uplifting anthem and the elite European clubs who perennially grace its latter stages, Celtic now find themselves facing a year stuck on the outside looking in after tumbling out of the competition in quite dramatic fashion in the third qualifying round.

The Europa League, should they make it, will seem like scant consolation. There is an inherent cruelty that two results in late July and early August can hang over a club for an entire season but that is the fate that has befallen Celtic.

A third successive appearance in the group phase of the competition had always looked unlikely following their 4-1 thrashing at the hands of Legia Warsaw a week ago and so it proved, a 2-0 defeat at BT Murrayfield last night sending them to an embarrassing 6-1 aggregate loss. It is not quite what Ronny Deila would have imagined when he was unveiled as Neil Lennon's successor just two months ago. The Norwegian had said that not making the Champions League wouldn't be "the end of the world" but there will be few among the Celtic support who will share that sentiment this morning.

The competition and all the razzamatazz which surrounds it has sustained Celtic over the last two seasons of domestic drudgery and, without it, an awful long campaign stretches out before them. The Europa League group stage could yet offer something of a distraction should Celtic make it through the play-off round and there will be sufficient intrigue should they draw a top seed in the group phase in the mould of Sevilla, Internazionale, Tottenham Hotspur or Villarreal.

Even then, however, there would be drawbacks, with many league matches being switched to a Sunday following Thursday nights in Europe. In a season where it will likely be hard enough to attract fans through the door, it would be another distraction Celtic could do without.

The biggest loss, however, will be felt financially. The sums that can be made in the Europa League are a pittance in comparison with the Champions League and Celtic may find themselves having to cover that shortfall through other means. That, of course, will likely mean the sale of players such as Fraser Forster - said to be a target for Southampton - Virgil van Dijk and others. A reduced squad will still be good enough to win the SPFL Premiership by 20 points but it is not what Deila would have hoped for in his first season in charge.

The damage was done in Warsaw, of course, but Celtic rarely looked like clawing back the deficit in the return. Legia, fielding the same side that had won so comfortably in the first leg, did not simply sit in and invite wave upon wave of attack. Instead they played a high line and were quick to break on the counter attack.

Celtic, much like the First Minister in the previous night's referendum debate, needed to present a Plan B but none was forthcoming. Instead, they continued to try to play their way through the Poles with little to show for their efforts beyond a couple of half-chances which never greatly troubled Dusan Kuciak, the Legia goalkeeper.

Much will be made of Celtic having to decant to Murrayfield having given up their home temporarily to the organisers of the Commonwealth Games. It may have given Celtic an advantage to have played in a more familiar setting but they were not without a sizeable backing here, even if the fans' patience quickly evaporated when it became apparent that there would be no miracle to match last season's success against Shakhter Karagandy.

Celtic were booed off at half-time. By that point they were a goal behind, 5-1 down on aggregate, and needing the points equivalent of a rugby try to win the tie within 90 minutes. It was a poor goal to concede from Celtic's point of view, both Michal Zyro and Emilio Izaguirre contesting a long ball, the Pole easily outmuscling his Honduran opponent and zipping a shot past Forster. Even the most ardent of Celtic optimists realised the game was up.

Worse was to follow just past the hour mark. After Anthony Stokes had a curling effort saved Legia scored again. Michal Kucharcyz was able to ghost in unfettered, circumnavigate the sprawling Forster and poke the ball into the net.

That was enough for many of the Celtic fans who chose to vent their frustration at chief executive Peter Lawwell, some in his close proximity jabbing fingers and shouting in his direction for not suitably upgrading Deila's squad for the challenge of progressing through three qualifying ties. The Norwegian's only two signings to date did not feature last night, Craig Gordon was not in the squad and Jo Inge Berget was left on the bench following a fairly inauspicious debut in the first leg.

Most worryingly for Celtic, this was a flat display against opposition who were well-drilled and tactically sound but without any players of the calibre they had become accustomed to facing over two seasons in the Champions League. In such circumstances, not reaching the group phase this time around may turn out to be something of a blessing in disguise.

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