WHEN Fredrik Gulbrandsen, Salzburg’s Norwegian substitute, pounced on a Craig Gordon error to silence Celtic Park by rolling in his side’s second goal last night, it was widely assumed he had put the Parkhead club’s hopes of European football beyond Christmas to bed. That, presumably, was the thought process of the supporters who were spotted trooping disconsolately out of the ground.

But it turned out that another native of Norway, Rosenborg’s Tore Reginiusen, had an even later strike in store, as he steered in the unlikely 86th-minute equaliser in Leipzig which means that the Parkhead side, for a second successive season, will have their name in the hat when the draw for the last 32 for the Europa League is made in Nyon on Monday. First Harald Brattbakk, now this. Celtic owe the Trondheim side quite a debt.

Just before kick-off last night, a banner was unfurled depicting the grim reaper hovering over the Red Bulls of Salzburg and Leipzig and saying it was time to “cut this bull**** from football”. This only served as a red rag to the Austrian champions – who did their best buddies at RB Leipzig a favour by taking all three points from Parkhead.

But just when every conspiracy theory in the continent was being dusted down, along came the late plot twist which might just be sufficient to debunk them all for good. As un-German as it was, Leipzig hadn’t been able to do themselves a favour. Next, they’ll be telling us that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in the assassination of JFK after all.

It wasn’t exactly the manner Celtic would have chosen to get over the line but getting out of a group as stacked as this is quite an achievement for the Scottish champions, the first time they have ever made it from a qualifying section at the expense of a team from one of the continent’s top four leagues.

For all the ties between the two parts of this energy drink empire, Salzburg are clearly a side which need no extra incentive when it comes to doing themselves a favour in last day showdowns like this. Semi-finalists in this competition last season, and still invincible domestically, this is the third time they have made it out of a European group with maximum points.

Having taken care of Leipzig and found some serious form of their own since the first match in Austria, Celtic came into this match high in confidence. But for most of this match these two sides were mis-matched matadors.

With three fine saves in the first half alone, Craig Gordon deserves the credit for keeping Celtic in this match for as long as they were. Considering such heroics, it was rough justice indeed for the veteran goalkeeper that his faulty piece of handling should present Gulbrandsen with the tap-in which added to Munas Dabbur’s headed opener to all but clinch the outcome of this one, regardless of a late Celtic rally which culminated in Olivier Ntcham’s late consolation. No player deserved the late reprieve which Rosenborg delivered more than he.

If the banner with the Red Bulls seemed harsh considering the Austrians welcomed their Scottish visitors with bagpipes in the first match, another banner displayed Celtic’s caring side.

There were emotional chants in support of Leigh Griffiths, the striker posted missing while he deals with personal issues, marking the unveiling of a banner which said ‘It’s ok not to be ok, you’ll never walk alone Leigh Griffiths’. In the final reckoning, the wee man’s winning goal against Rosenborg on the opening match day proved crucial.

Any notion that that Salzburg were content to oblige Celtic by playing for a draw was dispelled within minutes. If there was a stroke of luck when a header from midfielder Diadie Samasekou struck the underside of the crossbar, then Gordon earned that luck. He tipped a Zlatko Junuzovic header onto the roof of the net, was smartly down to defy a near post Laimer header from a corner, then stood tall when Hannes Wolf benefited from an errant Kris Ajer pass to run through on goal. If he hadn’t got his shot away, the referee might well have deemed Simunovic’s challenge on him as worthy of a red card.

This would have been a more wounding defeat for Celtic were it not for the late drama in Leipzig, but there was still some collateral damage here. Mikael Lustig lasted only 20 minutes, going down in a clash of heads with Stefan Laimer. Ryan Christie was stretchered from the action too, with what appeared at best to be fairly serious ankle ligament damage. It if had been strange to see Celtic lining up in such a big game without Scott Brown, he appeared at half time for Scott Sinclair and aided his team's efforts.

Celtic’s luck ultimately ran out - or so we thought - when Lainer had all day to measure a cross which was perfect for the forehead of Munas Dabbur, the Israeli striker milking the moment in front of the home fans, as Andre Ramalho went down as if struck by a missile before being promptly told to pick himself up and get on with the game again by the referee. We may read more about this in days to come.

Gordon saved again from Dabbur from point blank range before Gulbrandsen’s goal, after he blocked a roll-out from the goalkeeper, was presumed to be the death knell. We were into the frantic final stages before periodic eruptions from the crowd – each of which was apparently armed with a smartphone - signalled that the script was taking a different turn out in Germany.

Amazingly Celtic might even have salvaged a draw. Ajer converted a goalbound Benkovic header over from pretty much under the bar then the Parkhead side finally got on the scoresheet when Oliver Ntcham steered in the rebound after his own penalty – after a Jerome Onguene foul on Benkovic – had been tipped onto the post by Alexander Walke. But, with the final whistle in Germany having gone long before full time in Glasgow, the last few minutes were party time.

The likes of Arsenal and Chelsea will lurk in the draw when it is made in Switzerland on Monday. Salzburg will be a team to avoid in the remainder of this competition too. But every Celtic fan has been granted their favourite Christmas gift; some European football to look forward to when early Spring comes around.