Ajax 2-2 Celtic: Fine start for Celtic despite Emilio Izaguirre red card

By Tom EnglishBBC Scotland in Amsterdam
Kenny Tete and Emilio Izaguirre
Emilio Izaguirre (right) was sent off against Ajax but Celtic left Amsterdam with a point

In the 73rd minute at the Amsterdam ArenA on Thursday, Ajax had a free-kick inside the Celtic half, too far from Craig Gordon's goal to think about a shot, but in decent enough position to think about dropping something into the goalkeeper's air space in the hope of causing some consternation.

For the umpteenth time, the delivery was poor. It was low, harmless and easily cleared.

In that moment, Arkadiusz Milik, Ajax's impressive young striker who bizarrely started the match on the bench, threw his hands in the air in frustration at the botched set piece. Davy Klaassen, the captain, shouted his anger. On the touchline Ajax manager Frank de Boer scowled and walked away.

There were 17 minutes to go and Celtic were comfortable in their 2-1 lead. All the while they made life difficult for themselves with skewed passing, Ajax hadn't created much and didn't look like creating. They looked a young team - average age of 21.5 - that had just about run out of ideas.

The main concern for the visitors was the sight of Emilio Izaguirre continuing to make some risky challenges despite being on a yellow card.

Ronny Deila tinkered with the idea of taking him off, but decided against it for fear of running out of substitutions late in the game when he might desperately need one.

Celtic manager Ronny Deila and Ajax counterpart Frank de Boer
Deil and and De Boer both had something to show for their efforts at full-time

He banked on Izaguirre keeping his head, but it didn't happen. The red card changed everything. The dynamic altered instantly, not just in numbers terms but in confidence, too.

A minute after Izaguirre walked, De Boer brought on Lasse Schone, a clever player who, like Milik, was inexplicably left out of the starting team.

Suddenly, Ajax had a swagger. Suddenly, their deliveries started finding their target. Suddenly, they were a threat.

Klaassen could have scored with 12 minutes left. Milik hit a post with 10 minutes remaining. When it came, their second equaliser was no surprise.

Celtic have a wearying habit of not just losing leads in Europe but also, more recently, losing goals from set plays. Here was another. Schone's free-kick was viciously effective but yet again nobody in that Celtic defence took charge. There was no dominant defender and no decisive goalkeeper. There was just the sight of a fourth goal in three European matches conceded from a dead ball.

It could have been worse, of course. Those closing minutes were fretful. Milik had another chance and narrowly missed. Celtic could easily have left Amsterdam with nothing. It would have been harsh but they were hanging on for dear life at the end, like a boxer waiting for the mercy of the bell.

Scott Brown and Arkadiusz Milik
Milik (right) was surprisingly left on the bench by Ajax

It was a strange night, a night that might have left some in the Celtic party a little addled over what to make of it all.

There will be torment for what might have been had Izaguirre not seen red but also relief that the dismissal only cost them two points and not all three.

The bottom line is handsome enough. A point in Amsterdam is a fine start to Europa League Group A, which has become all the more cut-throat following Molde's win away at Fenerbahce. It's given Celtic something to build on in the games ahead.

The night also served as a reminder of Kris Commons' worth. Commons' story at Celtic is an odd one. You always get the sense that he's undervalued by supporters. Not by all, but by many.

Last season, he spent periods out of the team and looked like he was leaving the club. He'd virtually said his goodbyes at Hamilton when throwing his boots to the crowd.

It's fair to say that even though a new contract was agreed, Deila has not shown him a whole lot of love. Stefan Johansen has been his attacking midfielder of choice. Thursday night was the first time in nine European matches that the Celtic manager gave Commons a start.

Celtic midfielder Kris Commons
Commons played a crucial role in both Celtic goals

Towards the end of August, the treasure trove of statistics and trivia that is the OptaCeltic Twitter accountexternal-link sent out some details about Commons that made the jaw drop a little.

The midfielder had just played his 200th game for Celtic, against Dundee United at Tannadice, and his running tally of goals and assists stood at 83 goals and 64 assists. After Amsterdam those numbers now read 83 and 66 in 203 games.

In other words, Commons has contributed either a goal or an assist in 73% of the matches he has played for Celtic. That's a stat worth thinking about - and marvelling at. For an outlay of around £300,000 Commons could legitimately be included in a conversation about the best value-for-money signings in Celtic's recent history.

At the Amsterdam ArenA he took just eight minutes to expose Deila's folly of keeping him on the bench at Pittodrie last Saturday. His footwork in setting up Nir Bitton for the opening goal was gorgeous and, later, his delivery for Mikael Lustig to score the second was dead-eye.

Commons was excellent even though he was playing out of position, on the right of midfield. Some Celtic people gripe about him being overweight. When it looked like he was leaving the club last season there wasn't a clamour among the support to keep him. And yet on nights like this he is Celtic's best player. A creator that still has much to offer even if his opportunities to show it are oddly limited.

Deila has had some bad nights in Europe in his time in charge, but this was one of the better ones. Two goals, one point and some confidence restored.