Celtic slumped to defeat from a Cesc Fabregas header after their captain, Scott Brown, was sent off for kicking out at Neymar. The home side were reduced to 10 men in the 58th minute, having stood up to the Catalan artistry – which had failed to produce much in the way of an end product – with a healthy dose of industry, when Brown needlessly kicked the Brazilian following his original foul on the Barcelona forward.
Neil Lennon’s men came close to opening the scoring moments later when James Forrest, on as a substitute for Mikael Lustig, had a powerful volley saved by Victor Valdes before Charlie Mulgrew came within inches with a header.
However, the Scottish champions were dealt another blow in the 76th minute when Fabregas headed Barcelona, missing the mercurial talent of the injured Lionel Messi, into the lead. Celtic keeper Fraser Forster denied Neymar twice and also substitute Alexis Sanchez, who had set up the goal, in the closing stages as gaps opened up in the home side’s defence.
But it was a spirited performance by Neil Lennon’s side, who, as expected chased the ball for most of the game, especially in the first half.
Celtic play Ajax in their next group fixture on 22 October and, after losing 2-0 to AC Milan in their Group H opener, they will have to fight for Champions League survival without the Scotland midfielder who let his side down.
As well as Messi, Barcelona were without Javier Mascherano, Jordi Alba and Carles Puyol but the Catalans still had a host of big names including Fabregas, Andres Iniesta, Xavi Hernandez and Neymar.
Brown’s dramatic sending-off gave an edge to the atmosphere with the home fans clearly unhappy. And even though it was clear Brown had kicked out at Neymar, Lennon said: “I’m not convinced it’s a red card. If there’s any contact it’s very minimal. It changed the game. It’s hard enough playing against Barcelona with 11 men, never mind 10 men. Neymar has a reputation in the game. Sometimes he exaggerates things a little bit.”
With no points from two games, Celtic will be looking to beat Ajax – home and away – to keep their Champions League hopes alive.
Man of the match Forster.
Match rating 6/10.
Referee S Lannoy (Fr).