A first-choice when Brendan Rodgers was at the helm, Craig Gordon has found opportunities under Neil Lennon few and far between. Since returning as manager 10 months ago, Lennon has selected the experienced Scottish cap only fleetingly.
With Fraser Forster being rested for the trip to Cluj, his understudy had a rare chance to remind his gaffer and the travelling support just what he is capable of between the sticks.
The ideal goalkeeping scenario for Celtic would undoubtedly be a permanent deal for Forster, and, with Scott Bain penning a new four-year contract at the end of October, Gordon is likely to be surplus to requirements come the January window.
The stand-in did nothing to change that view during an uninspiring display in Transylvania as a second-string Celtic succumbed to their first defeat of an otherwise excellent Europa League campaign.
Following a decent showing on league duty against Hamilton, Bauer was left out of the League Cup final at the expense of the revelation of the season, Jeremie Frimpong.
The Austrian is a decent enough right-back, arguably better defensively than Frimpong, has pace, and delivers the ball well into the box. But he is still the third-choice right-back at the club.
Bauer got forward well in the first-half against Cluj, but was largely ineffective after the half-time break. He will retain his place in the side against Hibs but will drop back out as soon as Frimpong returns from suspension.
On this performance, Bolingoli is no longer an automatic choice at left-back. It was important that he got 90 minutes under his belt, but he seems to have regressed during his absence. I’d expect Greg Taylor to feature more in the second half of the season.
A surprise inclusion in the starting XI following his League Cup exertions. Jullien looked shaky, was given the runaround for 45 minutes, and was hooked at half-time.
Following my criticism of Bitton’s defensive qualities in the league match against Hamilton, the Israeli went on to produce a fairly composed performance against Cluj. Much of his positive contributions were from a passing perspective and he was turned inside-out leading up to the corner for the opening goal, however, so I’d still expect a centre-half to be on Neil Lennon’s January shopping list.
The 18-year-old’s debut was the highlight of this European away day. After an opening 20 minutes where he was finding his feet, he came on to an assured performance, which bodes well for him as he looks forward to further opportunities this season.
Morgan ended up on the deck five times in the first-half, after being shrugged off the ball with relative ease. Having put in a few shifts as a makeshift striker, with mixed results, Morgan should revert back to his more natural wide position for the remainder of the season.
The physical transformation of his team-mate, Ryan Christie, should work as inspiration for Morgan, who will require a similar enhancement before he can be regarded as a first choice in this side.
The enigmatic Frenchman was handed the captain’s armband and he produced a performance that won him the ACSOM Man of the Match.
Ntcham’s range of passing was on show as he produced a mature performance, whilst orchestrating the play for Neil Lennon’s unfamiliar side.
Leigh Griffiths’ recovery continued as he managed to get a full 90 minutes in the tank. The 29-year-old put in a power of work on a night where goal scoring chances were at a premium. Another start against Hibs would be a massive step for Griff as he looks to cement his place as Celtic’s backup striker.
Mikey Johnston’s performance was one of very few positives for Neil Lennon. Having been missing through injury for a spell, Johnston is looking to be on his way to reproducing his early-season form.
It is bound to be difficult to come in from the cold (and it was particularly cold in the Stadionul Dr. Constantin Rădulescu on Thursday night), but Sinclair did nothing to enhance his reputation with Neil Lennon.
It is now looking likely that the best option for all parties would be for Scotty to move on in January.
Kristofer Ajer was one of Celtic’s best performers despite him only appearing at half-time.
Vakoun Issouf Bayo has done nothing to convince me that he’ll ever be Celtic’s third-choice striker.
Karamoko Dembélé made history by becoming Celtic’s youngest ever player in Europe. It is great to see this young man’s career continue to progress and hopefully he will get more minutes as the season moves into its second-half.
Paul John Dykes
🍀 A CELTIC STATE OF MIND
⭐️ Man of the Match
🇷🇴 Cluj 2 Celtic 0
1️⃣ Olivier Ntcham
2️⃣ Scott Robertson
3️⃣ Mikey Johnston