NO strikers for Celtic – no sweat for Rosenborg.
That was the harsh fact on a night which left Scotland’s Invincibles now heading for Norway next week as the VULNERABLES.
Much has been made of Celtic’s awesome strength in depth on the home front.
But on this Euro stage, facing a better level than Linfield, the absence of the injured Moussa Dembele and suspended Leigh Griffiths proved too much for them to gain an advantage for what’s now going to prove a nerve-wracking night in Trondheim.
Indeed, let’s be even more brutally honest here – Rosenborg should’ve been taking a LEAD back to their place.
TWO second half sitters from Yann Erik de Lanlay and the high profile Nicklas Bendtner let off Celtic while Craig Gordon was the far more occupied keeper.
But maybe, just maybe, the toothless Hoops will find life easier with Rosenborg expected to come out and go for the kill at their Lerkendal Stadium.
With the Euro stakes ever greater for the Hoops it was a massive call by Rodgers to go with kid Kristoffer Ajer at the back – the pre-match headline news angle.
Yet, short of a dramatic formation change, he had little choice with experienced stoppers Dedryck Boyata and Erik Sviatchenko – reportedly interesting Turks Besiktas – both on the crocked list.
Converted centre-half Ajer, however, would let no one down against his fellow Norwegians and especially former Arsenal star Bendtner.
To describe the first half as frustrating for the large home support would be underplaying it big time; their groans and howls as the Cels toiled to create clear-cut openings merely turning up the heat on Rodgers’ players.
Celtic, though, knew battle-hardened Rosenborg – already 17 games into their pursuit of three-in-a-row and five points clear at the top of the Tippeligaen – wouldn’t exactly be set up to allow them shots at will.
Indeed, Kare Ingebrigtsen’s 4-5-1 formation very quickly became a nine behind the ball arrangement whenever the need required it – and that was for all but 10-minutes of the opening half.
What didn’t help Celtic throughout this was the ineffectiveness of wide-men Scott Sinclair and James Forrest. Hard-working they might’ve been, they were still lacking a spark.
For 20 minutes the Celts hogged the ball and their play was expansive with their most expensive signing for a decade, the £4.5 million Olivier Ntcham, a busy presence in the heart of midfield – demanding a pass and no slouch in distributing it, mainly forward.
Ten minutes in the silky Frenchman delivered a superb clipped ball into the centre of Rosenborg’s box for the coasting Stuart Armstrong, producing a trademark ghosting run.
The attacking midfielder, testing the club’s patience over contract talks, controlled the ball on his chest but his subsequent shot was blocked.
Seconds later Forrest, from an astute Tom Rogic pass across the box, also had a shot deflected away from goal while Ajer, climbing to meet an Armstrong corner, headered over from close range.
Rosenborg hadn’t threatened whatsoever by the 20-minute mark – but then suddenly Celtic started to give the ball away cheaply, their play ragged.
The visitors, who beat the Hoops in the group stages 16-years ago, cut them open with worrying ease in the 22nd minute.
A brilliant Mike Jensen pass allowed Milan Jevtovic to get in behind Kieran Tierney, turn the young player of the year with ease, and then fire a shot which a stretching Ajer did well to block for a corner.
It was great work by the powerful Celts youngster.
Now it was Rosenborg dictating the play, picking their passes with ease and looking comfortable all over.
Keeper Andre Hansen hadn’t exactly been overworked, not a save of note to make.
Further danger arrived on the half hour mark following a silly Mikael Lustig foul on Lanlay. It gifted a free-kick in a great position. Birger Meling’s overhit effort to the far post found Anders Konradsen, running away from goal.
Scott Brown tracked him but was then beaten too easily by a turning Konradsen who bolted into the box and hit a near post effort which forced Craig Gordon into a finger tip save.
Rosenborg went in at the break on top and full of confidence – and well aware of the Celtic fans beginning to vent their displeasure at their team’s failure to seriously worry them.
Another big problem for the Hoops was Rosenborg’s containment of Rogic, the so-called false number nine. The big Aussie simply wasn’t functioning as an attacking force.
Seven minutes into the second half Rosenborg drew even more encouragement from a decent attack which forced Ntcham into fouling the overlapping Meling for another free-kick in an unwanted position.
Vegar Eggen Hedenstad’s driven effort to the near post ensured Gordon had to be alert as he clawed it away to safety.
Rosenborg were on the ascendency now; Gordon saving a Jensen shot and then watching a close range header from the increasingly influential Bendtner drift over.
This wasn’t in the script – and how Celtic didn’t concede in the 61st minute only Lanlay can explain.
Somehow, with only Gordon to beat from eight yards in front of goal from a Jevtovic square pass, he blasted well over. It was an unbelievable escape for Celtic.
Rosenborg turned the screw again moments later when the strong Bendtner was allowed to turn in the box and hit a right foot shot which Gordon held low to his left.
Rodgers had to act with a sub – and on came Jonny Hayes for Ntcham who’d started brightly but by early second half had faded.
But going into the final 20 minutes Celtic continued to labour badly up front.
Forrest showed great footwork to lose two Rosenborg defenders in the box before shooting inches wide of the far post.
However, Rosenborg then blew ANOTHER gilt-edged chance with 14 minutes left.
Jensen’s perfect cut-back picked out Bendtner 14-yards out – but, amazingly for a player of his quality, he responded with a dreadful mis-kick and the Hoops yet again breathed a sigh of relief.
Rosenborg number one Hansen was finally given something to do in the 77th minute as he pushed away a well struck Armstrong volley from the edge of the box.
But the Norwegians remained compact, determined and organised at the back.
And in added time Gordon had to use a leg to deny a shot from visiting sub Elbasan Rashani.
Celtic, with Griffiths due back, will HAVE to improve in the second leg to keep alive their hopes of reaching the play-off stages.
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