Villarreal captain Marcos Senna's free-kick after 67 minutes here last night consigned Celtic to yet another defeat on their Champions League travels. The Hoops had taken one point from a possible 45 away from Celtic Park in this stage of the competition before their second Group E game this season.
Villarreal controlled long periods of the game and Celtic keeper Arthur Boruc brilliantly denied the home side a second goal in the final minutes when blocking Joseba Llorente's shot near the post.
Celtic had soaked up some intense pressure but their striker Georgios Samaras squandered a great chance just before the interval and the visitors were made to pay for that miss in the 67th minutes after Paul Hartley fouled Llorente 25 yards from goal.
Senna curled in a 25-yard free-kick from the left over the defensive wall and the ball dropped into the bottom left hand corner with Boruc sprawling across in vain.
The home side appeared to be quickly into their stride after half-time, but there was enough evidence in Celtic's occasional breaks to suggest that elusive away win in Europe was not out of their reach. On the hour mark, as Villarreal again swarmed around the Scottish side's penalty area, Santi Cazorla tested Boruc with a long-range drive, but the Celtic keeper clutched the ball safely to his chest before making an even better block moments later from Senna's powerful 30-yard effort.
In the first half the Spanish side kept possession after a slow start but missed several decent opportunities. Then, with three minutes left to half-time, Samaras latched on to a Mark Wilson pass to go through on goal but his shot was saved by the Villarreal goalkeeper Diego Lopez.
Strachan's bold line-up, packed with attack-minded players, promised a more open game than perhaps the Scots had indulged in during their recent seasons away in Europe. In fact, it was anything but a fiery beginning from them and in the 14th minute, Villarreal midfielder Sebastian Eguren headed Giuseppe Rossi's cross well past the post from 10 yards when it seemed easier to beat the Celtic keeper. Playmakers Cazorla and Senna then both drove shots from distance wide of the target.
Villarreal slowly began to build momentum and, following a defence-splitting Eguren pass, Boruc had to rush from his goal to block Rossi's effort. When the ball rebounded outside the box, Llorente curled it wide of the target and then headed a Senna corner straight into the arms of Boruc from barely 12 yards out.
The Scottish champions responded and, during a brief moment of respite, Aiden McGeady flashed a 25-yard drive two yards wide. The Celtic defence held firm but, inspired by former Arsenal midfielder Robert Pires, the home side were unarguably always in control.
Villarreal (4-4-2): D Lopez; A Lopez, Godin, Rodriguez, Capdevila; Cazorla, Senna, Eguren, Pires; Llorente, Rossi.
Celtic (4-4-2): Boruc; Wilson, Caldwell, McManus, Naylor; Nakamura, Brown, Hartley, McGeady; Maloney; Samaras.
Referee: V Kassai (Hungary).