NO wonder Peter Lawwell was pushing so hard for the introduction of a third European competition. Continental football after Christmas for the third season from five is a decent return in its own right but one of these days the fans would love it if it was still around by the end of February.

After Inter Milan in 2015, and Zenit St Petersburg this time last year, last night it was Valencia’s turn to arrive in the East End of Glasgow and dowse Celtic’s continental ambitions in cold water. While those other two tiees still burned with intrigue ahead of the away leg, Valencia’s two unanswered away goals left Celtic with a mountain to climb in a match which was more one-sided than the watching Uefa bigwig Aleksandr Ceferin must have been hoping for. What else did we learn from what was a largely frustrating night for the Scottish Champions.


Celtic unveiled a bumper annual profit on the back of the sale of Moussa Dembele only last week, and have tens of millions burning a hole in their bank account, but a night like this merely sums up the structural difficulty they face. While Valencia can pay the wages which the Scottish champions cannot and attract talent to a league which is far superior to anything Scotland has to offer, the board know they could make a significant financial investment and still fall short when they reach this level.

Compared to the crew which visited this stadium back in 2001, a group featuring the likes of Gaizka Mendieta which reached two Champions League finals in a row which was nonetheless taken all the way to penalties, these Spaniards lacked a bit of star quality. Marcelino’s side are the draw specialists of La Liga, sitting in eighth despite only four defeats all season. But they still had enough about them to start without newly-acquired 40m Euro signing Gonzalo Guedes and former Atletico Madrid striker. Kevin Gameiro. The Celtic board's apparent reluctance to splash the cash would have gone down as even more of a lead balloon if Cristiano Piccini, a transfer target this summer, had found the net for No 3 with a low shot which was beaten out by Bain.


It was always said of Rangers during their nine-in-a-row years that their lack of domestic rivals hurt them when it got to the European stage. You can dust down that argument again for their city rivals because quite simply they don’t encounter teams prepared to press the ball as ferociously as Valencia did here.

Scott Bain has won his place into Celtic’s first team with the confident, short passing out from the back his manager prizes so highly but – while every once in a while the Parkhead side would successfully pass their way out from the back to win a numbers game higher up the field – you could multiply that by five with the times they almost played their way into difficulty.

Bain wasn’t always at fault for this – far from it. But from the moment he played a slide rule pass straight up the middle of the park to Ruben Sobrino within minutes, Celtic were often playing themselves into difficulty. Too often the passes, like one shortly before half-time to Jeremy Toljan, just weren’t on.


On the face of it, Valencia’s 4-4-2 pitted against Celtic’s 4-1-4-1 gave the Parkhead side a man’s advantage in central midfield. This was illustrated perfectly within minutes when Scott Brown and Ryan Christie combined perfectly to release Callum McGregor into space, the little midfielder scampering on and firing in a right-foot shot which was beaten out by Valencia goalkeeper Neto. The home side also worked it well when McGregor fed Sinclair who almost managed to spring the pace of Oliver Burke through on goal.

But by and large the pressure exerted by Valencia’s midfielders, led in the first half by impressive skipper Daniel Parejo and former Monaco man Geoffrey Kondogbia, was too much for the hosts to deal with. Scott Brown, often finding himself alone and overwhelmed at the base of the midfield, had one of those days where the statistics won’t be kind to him. There was a two-minute spell where he gave the ball away three times, while Parejo still had the poise to slide in Ruben Sobrino in the lead-up to the opening goal.


With the match coming too soon for Kieran Tierney and his hip injury, Brendan Rodgers’ only options for left back were Emilio Izaguirre, who had missed time recently with an ankle problem, and Jonny Hayes, a converted winger. He went with the Honduran, who declared himself fit, but this wasn’t the former Scottish player of the year’s night.

Unfortunately, he was the man who played Ruben Sobrino onside in the lead-up to the opener, the striker simply giving Denis Cheryshev a tap-in to the dismay of those around Parkhead who waited vainly for a flag. While the clinching second goal came down the other side, he couldn't quite get back across in time to defy Ruben Sobrino from close range after Cheryshev hit the bye-line and found a perfect cross.


At least no-one could accuse Brendan Rodgers last night of being unwilling to change things up in search of a way back into the game. With Plan A clearly not working he turned to his bench after just 58 minutes, sacrificing Ryan Christie and Scott Sinclair and introducing Odsonne Edouard and Timothy Weah. Edouard in particular made an impact down that left side, and Forrest made inroads at times down the right all night, but the goal Celtic needed to travel to Spain with genuine optimism didn’t arrive.