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More misadventures in Stadium of Gloom

L ISBON circa 1967 is a time which will resonate with Celtic supporters forever but it was also pretty much the last occasion the Parkhead club managed to get a positive result in the city.

Georgios Samaras rises to nudge in Celtic's equaliser
Georgios Samaras rises to nudge in Celtic's equaliser

In the years since those heady events in the Estadio Nacional, trips to the Portuguese capital have had a fair old habit of puncturing the Parkhead club's ego and last night that trend continued.

Three times on European Cup or Champions League duty before last night Celtic had travelled to the Estadio da Luz, losing seven goals without reply, with their sole victory of sorts coming in an infamous coin toss in a darkened ante room after a 3-0 defeat which settled a second-round tie back in November 1969. The rain poured down in Portugal last night and Neil Lennon will be at pains to ensure that it doesn't unduly dampen the mood.

The evening started well for the Parkhead club, Barcelona's victory in Moscow guaranteeing them Europa League football beyond Christmas at least, but when the dust had settled last night's result means Celtic go into the final matchday against Spartak Moscow knowing they must better the result which Benfica achieve at Camp Nou. If the bad news is that the Catalan giants are already through, the good news is that Moscow are now out of contention and have nothing more than pride at stake.

Celtic's task, however, was made immeasurably more difficult by the late booking picked up by Victor Wanyama for a rather innocuous late challenge with five minutes left of play which rules him out of that match, and the news that Scott Brown's battle against a chronic hip complaint is most likely over and he will now need surgery.

In light of such misadventures at this venue, even Celtic contriving to score an away goal has to go down as something of an achievement. Their first at this venue was deceptively simple, courtesy of another pinpoint Charlie Mulgrew corner-kick delivery, Gary Hooper crowded the space of goalkeeper Artur in the six-yard box and a gleeful Georgios Samaras headed in his fourth goal in five away matches, or fifth in five if you are inclined to count his contribution to the own goal at Camp Nou.

It arrived on the half hour to draw Celtic level after Ola John's opener, but only served to paint a rather false impression upon proceedings. Because this was Celtic's least convincing display of the campaign to date, and when you looked back over the chances it was only a testament to the continued excellence of Fraser Forster in goal and some last-ditch challenges that this match still contained intrigue into the final minute. Considering Celtic's Champions League travails on their travels during the Martin O'Neill and Gordon Strachan eras, such a scenario told you much about the fortitude of Lennon's side.

Celtic took shelter from the elements at half-time with parity on the scoreboard but while the travelling support waited for them to stem the tide all they got was wave after wave of relentless red. Oscar Cardozo, the man who scored the late winner on Celtic's last visit, forced a couple of saves from Forster which were the equal of anything he was called upon to produce against the Catalans. Lima, a tricky wee figure who had featured against Celtic for Braga in Lennon's debut campaign, embarrassed Efe Ambrose out wide only for Adam Matthews to hack clear on the line.

Yet somehow the Parkhead side held on until 18 minutes from the end, when a deep cross from the excellent Nemanja Matic, led to a combination between the two home centre-backs. Luisao, restored after a two- month ban for pushing a referee, won the knock-down and Ezequiel Garay rammed in the volley with aplomb.

On came the cavalry as Celtic chased a point they scarcely deserved but the break of the ball deserted them at a crucial moment. Benfica have been a good luck charm for the Parkhead club in this competition, having been present in the club's groups in 2006 and 2007 when they made it into the last 16. But it certainly didn't seem like it last night.

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