CELTIC snatched defeat from the jaws of a famous victory in the BayArena tonight and saw their chances of reaching to the last 16 of the Europa League come to a painful end when they conceded two goals to Bayer Leverkusen in the final eight minutes.

Ange Postecoglou’s side had fought back brilliantly after falling behind to Gerardo Seoane’s team early on and appeared to be heading for their first ever victory on German soil.

Josip Juranovic had cancelled out Robert Andrich’s opener with and audacious Panenka-style penalty in the first-half and Jota had given the visitors the lead with a well-taken strike in the second.

However, Andrich struck again in the 82nd minute and a Moussa Diaby goal five minutes later ensured the Bundlesliga club booked their place in the knockout rounds of the competition.

Celtic will, with Real Betis beating Fernecvaros in Spain and clinching second place in the section, have to content themselves with Europa Conference League football after Christmas.

Celtic had played on German soil on 12 occasions before tonight without ever once recording a victory. Leverkusen had never lost of the 14 matches they had played in the Europa League group stages, a record for the competition, going into the encounter. 

Postecoglou made one change to the team that had taken to the field at Hampden for the Premier Sports Cup semi-final against St Johnstone five days earlier and, as expected, started James Forrest ahead of Liel Abada.

Abada had struggled to exert much of an influence on proceedings against the ultra-defensive holders – and Forrest made an immediate impact after coming on for him in the second-half by netting the winning goal.

It was understandable that the vastly-experienced Scotland wide man was preferred to his young Israeli team mate for such a demanding away match against such formidable opponents.    

Leverkusen were once again without Lucas Alario and Patrik Schick, their Argentina and Czech Republic internationalists, and Seoane fielded Amine Adli, the young French player who has been moved from the wing to attack in recent weeks, up front once again in their absence.

Adli, who had rounded off a 4-0 rout in Glasgow with his first goal for the club he joined for €15m in the summer back in September, played as a lone striker in a 4-2-3-1 formation with Paulinho, Florian Wirtz and Diaby in the three quarter line just behind him.  

The sizeable travelling support inside the BayArena were in fine voice long before kick-off and drowned out their counterparts with their singing despite being vastly outnumbered. Alas, a couple of flares were set off at kick-off. Another UEFA fine may be forthcoming.

On the pitch, things were not quite so explosive. Celtic contained Leverkusen well without troubling them greatly in attack or asking any questions of their goalkeeper Lukas Hradecky. But the hosts had soon assumed control.

Andrich got on the end of an outswinging Wirtz corner in the 10th minute and headed just over the crossbar. It was a taste of what was to come.

Moments later, Jeremie Frimpong and Paulinho played a neat one-two on the edge of the area before the right back squared into the six yard box. Cameron Carter-Vickers did well to clear the danger. But Wirtz had been perfectly positioned at the back post to turn it in.  

When Leverkusen took the lead in the 16th minute it was no huge surprise. Still, the way Celtic fell behind will have angered Postecoglou in his technical area. Wirtz played another corner in to the six yard box, Andrich ran in from the edge of the area, outjumped Stephen Welsh and glanced a downward header beyond Joe Hart.  

It was a move straight off the training ground and a fine finish. But why, given that the scorer had almost found the net in the same situation shortly before, had nobody been alert to the danger the midfielder posed? Conceding at yet another set piece should be cause for concern.

At that stage, it looked like it was going to be a grim evening for Celtic and another heavy defeat was coming their way. To their credit, they regrouped and fought back heroically. David Turnbull found Kyogo Furuhashi in dangerous positions in the final third with a couple of decent through balls and Forrest and Jota made their presence felt out wide whenever they received possession.

The latter played a dangerous delivery into the Leverkusen six yard box eight minutes before half-time and Hradecky took out Furuhashi as he attempted to punch it clear. The striker took is time to get back to his feet and required medical attention before returning to the field of play. By the time he did, his side had been awarded a penalty.

Greek referee Anastasios Sidiropoulos reviewed the incident on the pitchside monitor, quickly and correctly decided the Japense forward had been fouled, pointed to the spot and showed the offending player a yellow card.

Juranovic, who was controversially taken off penalties in the cinch Premiership match against Livingston last month despite converting his two previous attempts against Real Betis and St Johnstone, stepped forward to take it.

The Croatian full-back was coolness personified; he dinked a cheeky effort down the middle and into the goal off the underside of the crossbar as Hradecky dived to his right.  

Celtic were lucky not to fall behind just before the end of the first-half. Diaby struck the stanchion with a powerful volley and Wirtz pounced on the rebound and struck the post when he really should have buried it.

Hart came to the rescue of the Scottish side twice nine minutes into the second-half when he made an improbable double save. He denied Diaby with his outstretched leg and then, just as Adli look poised to bury into an empty net from a few yards out, somehow slithered across and retrieved the ball.

Remarkably, his team mates found themselves in front two minutes after that scare. From a Hart throw, they broke upfield. Nir Bitton fed Furuhashi in the Leverkusen area and when Frimpong slipped the fans favourite’ squared to Jota. The Portuguese kept his composure and rifled a powerful first-time shot into the bottom right corner.  

The clamour for Celtic to sign the Benfica loanee permanently will become deafening now. Postecoglou replaced him with Mikey Johnstone and Forrest with Abada as Bitton was treated for a knock in the 72nd minute. Hart palmed a goal-bound Adli effort over his bar soon after the changes.  

Albian Ajeti then took over from Furuhashi and Bitton made way for James McCarthy. But disaster struck in the 82nd minute when Nadiem Amiri laid the ball off and Andrich fired through Hart’s legs. Worse was to come with three minutes remaing. Wirtz chipped to Diaby who volleyed home to put his side back in front and seal the victory.