GLASGOW, Scotland, February 13 – Celtic manager Neil Lennon admits his side need a miracle if they are to overturn a 3-0 home defeat to Juventus in their Champions League last 16 first leg tie at Parkhead.
The Italian champions put on a clinical display to triumph in Glasgow as they soaked up intense pressure and capitalised on defensive errors to all but book their place in the last eight of the competition.
The Hoops travel to Turin in three weeks time for the return leg and Lennon admitted his side face an almost impossible task.
“We need a miracle. We have to try and be competitive and try and work our way into the tie,” Lennon said after his side’s unbeaten home record in Europe this season came to an abrupt end.
“I said to the players at half-time that it was 1-0 and they were fine and there was a long way to go in the second half.
“But I just felt their heads dropped when the second goal went in. We looked a little bit ragged towards the end.
“We have got a three-week period between now and then. We know it is a daunting prospect at any stage but with a three-goal deficit it is going to be insurmountable almost.
“If we can create the chances that we did tonight and take them then who knows.
“But it’s going to be a huge ask now.”
Lennon surprised everyone before kick-off as he handed Efe Ambrose a starting place despite the defender playing in Nigeria’s African Cup of Nations final win over Burkina Faso on Sunday.
But the gamble backfired with the defender at fault for two of Juve’s deadly away goals.
Ambrose was caught out by the flight of Federico Peluso’s long ball in the third minute allowing Alessandro Matri to get in behind him and fire the ball over the line despite Kelvin Wilson’s desperate attempted clearance on the line.
Ambrose then missed a chance to atone for his earlier error when he headed straight at veteran Italian keeper Gianluigi Buffon when it looked easier to score before Juventus increased their lead in the 77th minute when Claudio Marchisio smashed a shot past Fraser Forster.
Mirko Vucinic finished low through Forster’s legs in the 83rd minute after Ambrose had been caught in possession by Marchisio as the Serie A leaders made the second leg all but a formality.
Despite Ambrose’s errors his manager refused to point the finger of blame at the defender, who had only arrived back on a flight from South Africa in the early hours of Tuesday morning.
“He was caught for the first goal – it was nothing to do with tiredness,” Lennon said.
“I thought once he got over that he was fine. There was no sign of tiredness when he went in and should have scored really but that’s just down to a bad miss.
“But maybe later as the game progressed he did tire but with losing Mikel Lustig we had no alternative but to keep Efe on as we needed the pace at the back as Matri and Vucinic have really good pace.
“You can always question decisions in hindsight. Maybe it was a bit of a gamble but I can’t really criticise the team apart from that final wee bit of quality to get us a goal because our build-up play at times was fantastic.”
The game was marred by bouts of wrestling between the Juve defenders and Celtic forwards at every corner and Lennon was dismayed by Spanish referee Alberto Mallenco’s handling of the tie.
“I would like to ask what he made of how Juventus marked our players,” Lennon said.
“It looked to me they were fouling at every opportunity. The referee was warned by our players to keep an eye on it and he ignored our requests.
“And every time we went to lose a marker we were being hauled back and the referee is looking straight at it.
“Are the rules different in Spain and Italy than they are in Britain? Because on that showing they must be.”