PASCAL FEINDOUNO dealt a double knock-out blow to the club who elected not to offer him a contract at the start of the year, scoring twice for Sion to set up the Swiss for a 3-1 win and send Celtic crashing out of Europe.
The Guinean chipped a penalty past Fraser Forster inside three minutes, the damage compounded by the fact that Daniel Majstorovic was sent off for the foul on Guilherme Afonso which led to the award.
Celtic tried to lift themselves from the canvas, and did succeed in scoring through a Charlie Mulgrew free kick with 12 minutes remaining. However, by then, Feindouno had completed his devastating one-two with another goal, and Giovanni Sio ensured there would be no comeback for the 10 men with a third goal in the dying minutes.
It means Sion’s name is in today’s draw for the Europa League group stages while Neil Lennon is left seeking his first aggregate win in a European tie after three attempts.
The Celtic manager had gambled by including Gary Hooper, Biram Kayal, Kelvin Wilson and Mulgrew, all having been doubtful starters due to injuries. Making way were Kris Commons, James Forrest, Anthony Stokes and Adam Matthews, while Shaun Maloney and Victor Wanyama did not get any closer to the action than the stand.
As they did at Celtic Park, Sion included a clutch of the players at the centre of the eligibility case currently being considered by the Court of Arbitration for Sport, and on which a verdict is expected next week. That process has taken much longer than Sion required to effectively decide the tie.
With only 44 seconds on the clock, they succeeded in isolating Majstorovic and the quicker Afonso. Geoffrey Serey Die’s pass sailed over the head of Majstorovic and Afonso gathered it with one touch as he moved into the box. Before he could shoot, the Swedish defender brought him down from behind. The striker was stretchered off. Feindouno calmly stepped forward to dink past Forster.
Lennon immediately reshuffled his side, moving Mulgrew into central defence, withdrawing Ledley to left-back and moving Georgios Samaras into left midfield.
Ostensibly, Celtic’s task remained the same; they had to score to progress. But, with the Swiss holding a numerical advantage for almost the entire match, the odds had swung in Sion’s favour. They made the most of the space afforded them and Celtic had to be alert to plug the gaps. They did get some brief respite, though, when Hooper, playing a lone striker role, laid the ball back to Samaras whose shot sped just beyond Andris Vanins’ right-hand post.
Cha Du-ri had also begun to make some headway down the right, but his control and delivery was well below what was required. The same could not be said of Feindouno, who revelled in the time and space he was finding in behind Sion’s strikers. He was also a serious threat at set plays, and midway through the first half Forster had to dive full length to save a 25-yard free kick.
Afonso’s replacement, Aleksander Prijovic, was next to threaten, his shot skimming just wide as Feindouno continued to pull the strings. Scott Brown and Kayal tried their best to contain him and gain a foothold in midfield, but were picking more fights than passes as they became increasingly frustrated at the way the Spanish referee was officiating, in particular his unwillingness to punish the use of arms and elbows.
He finally did take action, booking Adailton for a kick which caught Samaras on the chin. From the resultant free kick, Mulgrew drew a good save from Vanins who had to punch clear.
Celtic had a penalty claim denied after Arnuad Buhler clashed with Samaras as he challenged for a Ki cross.
Feindouno doubled Sion’s lead after 62 minutes. His free kick had been blocked, but a quick change of direction allowed him room to shoot low past Forster from 20 yards.
Kayal, having run out of steam, was replaced by Forrest, and Celtic did finally scored the goal that they desperately needed when Mulgrew fired his free kick through the wall.
Sion were not fazed, however, and Sio’s breakaway seven minutes from time exploited Celtic’s commitment to attack. He deftly lifted his shot over Forster and propelled Celtic through the European exit door.