A late winner from substitute Vaclav Cerny saw Ajax record a 2-1 away win over Celtic to keep their hopes of reaching the Europa League knockout stages alive and simultaneously send their opponents out.
Callum McGregor’s early goal for the hosts was cancelled out by an effort from Arkadiusz Milik in an entertaining first half at Celtic Park.
It seemed the game would end in a draw – a result which, with Fenerbahce winning 2-0 at Molde in Group A’s other fixture, would have seen both sides crash out of the competition.
However, Celtic were caught on the break from their own corner in the 88th minute, 18-year-old Cerny rushing clear to score his first goal for the club and clinch the Dutch side’s first win of the group phase.
The dramatic victory means Ajax must now defeat Molde at home on matchday six and hope Celtic take all three points from Fener if they are to reach the last 32.
For Celtic, it was another disappointing end to a European campaign with Ronny Deila’s side destined to finish bottom of the group regardless of their result in Turkey.
Looking to register their first win in this season’s competition, Celtic – who were without captain Scott Brown, Kris Commons and the suspended duo of Nir Bitton and Stefan Johansen – had made an ideal start when McGregor put them ahead after just four minutes.
Allowed to carry the ball towards the edge of the area, McGregor took the opportunity afforded to him by Ajax’s retreating defenders to curl a right-foot shot beyond the desperate dive of goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen.
Ajax thought they had equalised shortly afterwards when Viktor Fischer flashed a shot beyond Craig Gordon, only for Milik to incorrectly be ruled offside in the build-up.
But Ajax’s sense of injustice did not last long as they levelled in the 22nd minute.
Fischer failed to beat Gordon with a shot from a tight angle but, reacting quickly as the ball looped up off the goalkeeper, he nodded across the area for Milik to stab home from close range.
The game opened up in the second half, with both sides desperately looking for a win that might give them hope going into the final round of group fixtures.
Leigh Griffiths fired wide from a tight angle rather than attempt to square the ball to Gary Mackay-Steven, while he also wasted a glorious chance when played through on goal, hitting his left-footed attempt too close to Cillessen.
Ajax were also indebted to their goalkeeper for holding a low drive from James Forrest, although he would have been helpless had Jozo Simunovic managed to drop his header underneath the bar, rather than just over it.
At the other end, Ajax defender Mike van der Hoorn could only direct a low corner over the top, as it seemed neither side would find a winner.
However, Cerny breathed new life into Ajax’s campaign when he was teed up by Milik on a devastating counter, ignoring supporting team-mates to instead steer the ball inside the near post and keep the Dutch giants alive in the competition.
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