Celtic rounded off a busy pre-season campaign by going down to a narrow 2-1 defeat to Manchester City on Saturday afternoon.
Following trips to Australia, Wales and London, and a home match with Sunderland, this was Celtic’s sixth friendly as they completed their build-up ahead of the start of the SPL season, with Aberdeen up next at Pittodrie on Saturday.
Summer signing Gareth Barry volleyed City into an early lead but Chris Killen levelled with his fifth goal in six pre-season games. Ex-Celtic striker Craig Bellamy grabbed City’s winner early in the second half.
Despite the result, it was a productive afternoon for Tony Mowbray, who saw a number of good performances from his players, not least Massimo Donati – who coped well in his unfamiliar role of centre-half.
Mowbray made 10 changes to his side following Wednesday’s 2-0 win over Dinamo Moscow. Donati was the only survivor, while the match-winner in Russia, Georgios Samaras, formerly of Man City, was among those handed a start.
City manager Mark Hughes was giving the home fans a first glimpse of some new heroes, with Barry, Kolo Toure, Emanuel Adebayor and Carloz Tevez all making their home debuts.
Bellamy and former Hoops goalkeeper Shay Given were in the City starting line-up and both were given a warm welcome by the thousands of Celtic supporters who had made the trip south.
City kept the ball well in the early exchanges and made the breakthrough in 15 minutes. It was a poor goal for Celtic to lose, with Barry ghosting into the box unmarked to volley home a Pablo Zabaleta cross from 14 yards.
Almost straight from the kick-off, Celtic had their first attack. Paddy McCourt picked up a loose pass and twisted past three challenges into the box. His shot was blocked and Killen couldn’t connect with the rebound.
Celtic had settled by the midway point of the half and Darren O’Dea came close with a header from Koki Mizuno’s corner. The Irishman’s looping effort was destined for the top corner but Given produced a top-class save.
Yet, the Irish No.1 had no chance in 24 minutes as Killen made it 1-1. Samaras was the provider with a wonderful pass behind Richard Dunne to release his strike partner. The Kiwi stormed into the box and rammed a fine finish into the corner.
Lukasz Zaluska foiled Stephen Ireland as City tried to press. Robinho was also showing some fancy footwork on the left flank but Paul Caddis stuck to his task manfully.
Samaras had a shot deflected wide as both sides had a go. The game was also becoming more competitive and Bellamy was unhappy with one Lee Naylor challenge.
Incensed at the referee’s decision not to award a free-kick, the Welshman chased after the loose ball but was left even more annoyed as McCourt nut-megged him with a sublime piece of skill.
Mizuno fired an ambitious long-range drive wide of target at the start of the second half. The Japanese winger then drilled a cross in the direction of Killen, but Tal Ben Haim made the clearance.
Bellamy had been relatively quiet but the Welshman showed all his quality with a stunning strike to put City 2-1 up. Taking Wayne Bridge’s pass, he twisted past O’Dea and lashed a low drive beyond Zaluska.
It was a blow for Celtic but the responded in the right way. McCourt, showing unbelievable skill, left four City defenders trailing and sent in a cross that Killen was inches away from converting. Samaras then forced Given into a low save.
Scott McDonald and Marc-Antoine Fortune came on for Killen and Mizuno as Celtic moved to a 4-3-3 formation on the hour-mark. The Australian had only been on the pitch for a few minutes when he headed over Willo Flood’s corner.
Mowbray then made a further six changes as he utilised almost his entire squad, with only Artur Boruc and Landry NGuemo being given the afternoon off.
Danny Fox was one of the many subs and his low free-kick was saved by Given as Celtic looked for the equaliser. O’Dea then sent a header agonisingly wide in the 85th minute.
Celtic then had a strong penalty claim turned down in the last minute when Donati was clattered in the box by Ben Haim. The Italian was caught in the face by a flying elbow but no spot-kick was given.