ANDY WALKER was transported back 30 years on Tuesday evening as he watched Celtic twice surrender a lead before losing 4-3 to CFR Cluj, ending their hopes of Champions League football for a second successive season.

In 1989 he was the other goalscorer for Billy McNeill’s side on the night Dariusz Dziekanowski claimed four in a 5-4 European Cup-Winners’ Cup victory over Partizan Belgrade, a result that saw them eliminated on the away goals rule.

Celtic conceded a last-minute goal on that occasion due to their determination to score a sixth goal rather than hold to what they had. And Walker attributes that to inexperience.

Neil Lennon’s men have no such excuse. Scott Brown, James Forrest, Callum McGregor, Leigh Griffiths, Jozo Simunovic, Olivier Ntcham, Odsonne Edouard and Kristoffer Ajer have racked up a total of 405 appearances in continental competition.


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Walker believes manager Neil Lennon and chief executive Peter Lawwell must share the blame for the club’s failure to mix it with the big boys – and if they don’t prevail against either AIK Stockholm or Sherriff Tiraspol in the Europa League campaign then it will be only the second time in 14 seasons that Celtic will not have reached the group phase of either tournament.

“On the football side, Neil must shoulder the blame for dropping Boli Bolingoli, the player he signed for £3 million, and shoehorning Callum McGregor into the left-back position,” he said.

“The early indications are that Bolingoli isn’t up to it, but Neil sang his praises after Saturday’s win at Motherwell, saying the Belgian had come through a hard time – and then he sits on the bench for 90 minutes alongside the £7m centre-half, Christopher Jullien.

“Celtic lost five international defenders at the end of last season and they’ve just sold another in Kieran Tierney. Yet, after spending £10m on two new signings, neither of them are used in the most important game of the season, even though they both played at the weekend and clearly aren’t injured.

“English clubs can afford to do that because they have so much TV revenue but Scottish clubs can’t.

"Steven Gerrard would love to be able to sign a £7m player for Rangers and you can bet that, if he did, he would play him in the big games.

“The worst thing for me about dropping Bolingoli, though, is that it was done to accommodate Ntcham, a player who doesn’t even want to be here. He’s already said publicly that he thinks he’s too good to play in Scotland and I can only assume he played on Tuesday night because that will make it easier to sell him.

“Neil is going to have problems managing a player who cost the club a fair bit of money and isn’t interested in playing for Celtic.


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"Tuesday’s selection also hurt the team because McGregor is their most creative midfielder – everything goes through him and he’s the man who makes them tick in the middle of the park.”

Sky pundit Walker also points out that the Celtic board have contributed heavily to the club’s hard Brexit.

“I don’t understand why but the club increasingly appear to accept that their level is, at best, the Europa League,” he said. “Celtic have over £50m in the bank so it wouldn’t have been unreasonable to spend another £10m on defenders to give themselves a chance of progressing.

“No-one’s asking them to gamble recklessly on succeeding in Europe because we know what can happen if that doesn’t work. But at least be honest with the fans and admit what your aims are.

“I heard Neil say after the game on Tuesday that the defeat would have an impact on his future spending and I just thought ‘Wow!’. This is a big season for Celtic, with the possibility of nine and 10 in a row on the horizon.”