Celtic: Lennon Insane To Play Knackered Cup Of Nations Star Efe Ambrose

From winning the African Cup Of Nations on Sunday to shipping three goals against Juventus in the Champions League on Tuesday, Celtic's Efe Ambrose had a shocker last night as Juventus left us sucker punched. The fault lies with the manager however not Ambrose.
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From winning the African Cup Of Nations on Sunday to shipping three goals against Juventus in the Champions League on Tuesday, Celtic's Efe Ambrose had a shocker last night as Juventus left us sucker punched. The fault lies with the manager however not Ambrose.


Football can be a real b***ard sometimes. Just ask any Celtic fan who watched the first leg of our Champions League last-16 tie against Juventus on Tuesday evening. Despite having the lion's share of the possession, corners and shots on target, and playing almost all the attractive, attacking football, we ended up getting thumped 3-0, a result that requires a turnaround in Turin that would shock even the Pope.

That's not to say we didn't deserve it, which brings me to Efe Ambrose. It's been a week of, erm, contrasting fortune for the Nigerian centre back, who joined from Israeli side Ashdod in the summer. On Sunday, he lifted the African Cup of Nations; two days later, he almost single-handedly knocked his club out of the Champions League.

The match boiled down to three mistakes from the afroed 24-year-old. The first came inside three minutes, when he hesitated at the edge of the box over a long ball lobbed in the general direction of Alessandro Matri. Ambrose allowed the ball to bounce around him and into the path of the Italian, who knocked it under the oncoming Fraser Forster, despite the best efforts of Kelvin Wilson to clear it off the line. Just like that, Juve had an away goal. It was not, I hardly need point out, the start we had in mind.

Ambrose's next crucial misstep came early in the second half at the other end of the pitch. Charlie Mulgrew floated one of his better crosses of the night in the direction of the entirely unmarked centre back, who had what seemed like forever to steady himself and wind up a thumping header past Gigi Buffon. Perhaps he had too long to think about the chance itself, or the possibility of atonement; what resulted was a weak downward header that bounced insipidly off the ground into the hands of the grateful veteran keeper.

The third error, with a little over five minutes to go, was the killer blow that all but guaranteed Juve a place in the quarter finals. Under little pressure five yards outside his box, Ambrose attempted to dribble past a bank of three Juve attackers. He was robbed by the excellent Claudio Marchisio, who put it on a plate for Mirko Vucinic. Game over.

The most glaring error of all, though, was Lennon's decision to pick Ambrose in the first place. Admittedly, the manager didn't have long to assess his condition – he only returned from South Africa on Tuesday morning. You can hardly blame Ambrose for wanting to play, but every man and his dog could see he was seriously off the pace from the outset. Lennon took a gamble; to say it didn't pay off is a monumental understatement.


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That aside, Lennon's tactics were adventurous and, in many ways, effective. He opted for a 4-3-3/4-4-2 hybrid (not unlike the one he employed against another Italian side, Udinese, in the Europa League in 2011-12), with Joe Ledley making way for Kris Commons, who took up a free role behind Gary Hooper and was a constant menace until his substitution in the 73rd minute. Lennon's attacking intentions were made clear by the inclusion of pacy youngster James Forrest on the left, though he would only have made the bench if Giorgios Samaras had been fit.

In midfield, the bullish duo of Scott Brown and Victor Wanyama – who combined to quell Barcelona in the group stage – were solid as ever; Brown, in particular, did a great job of annoying the hell out of Andrea Pirlo.. The full back berths were filled by Emilio Izaguirre on the left and Mikael Lustig on the right, both of whom showed verve and vigour in their attempts to overlap and provide crosses.

Opportunities were certainly created. In fact, it's no exaggeration to say we completely dominated proceedings. In the first half, Celtic had 14 shots on goal (though none could really be considered clear-cut chances); Juventus managed 10 over the 90 minutes. The performance was Celtic's best this season, and the final score was exceedingly flattering to the Italians.

All the same, credit must be given to Antonio Conte, the Juventus manager, for his approach. The Italians may have conceded a lot of possession, but Celtic's chances were few and far between, particularly as the game wore on and we began to tire (and after Lennon withdrew two of our better players, Brown and Commons). The second goal, which came when Matri played in Marchisio after 77 minutes, was a decisive and clinical counter-attack that demonstrated perfectly the ruthlessness Celtic lacked.

In the end, the deciding factors were obvious: Celtic made a number of individual errors and failed to score; Juventus were comfortable in defence and took their chances. When the Champions League gets serious, that's what counts.